Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss

“... I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast.”

—Harry Ellis

In the Christmas classic* Die Hard, Harry Ellis hatches a scheme to negotiate with Hans Gruber, who has taken the Nakatomi Plaza office tower by force, holding Ellis and his co-workers hostage.

Ellis portrays all the stereotypes we think of in a business negotiation. He’s slick-talking, self-interested, intellectually arrogant, aloof, and insincere—and those are his better qualities.

Ellis fast-talks his way into being murdered by Gruber’s henchmen.

In most business negotiations, we are afraid the other side will behave like Ellis—being brash, evasive, and trying to get one over on us. So we raise our defenses. We focus primarily on our wants—and what we want to say next—so we don’t listen and don’t learn. Usually, end up with a worse outcome than we could have had.

Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, has another way.

The title of his book “Never Split the Difference,” focuses on mindset—yours and that of your counterpart—and then offers many actionable insights to help you create the collaborative environment you need to for a successful negotiation.

Your counterpart’s mindset

Voss believes humans are of two minds: emotional and rational. The emotional mind is command, and above all seeks safety, security, and control. The rational mind is used to justify emotion: logic is the supporting framework for feelings.

The goal, then, is to create an environment of comfort and safety that allows the other party to feel a sense of control and autonomy. At that point, you set the stage for collaboration and real discussion.

Your mindset

“It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there.”

Voss argues we must embrace conflict (calmly and with empathy) and view negotiation as a fact-finding mission. Negotiation is a continuous act of discovery, not an attempt to dominate.

A friend and former boss used to tell me: “Be the dancing bear—draw their fire,” meaning there is tremendous value in eliciting and understanding objections and concerns.

Using this framework requires a mindset shift. You aren’t in a quid-pro-quo contest to gain the most from your “opponent.” Instead, you’re an explorer, acting like Indiana Jones to uncover the clues that will lead you to the prize you seek.

By the way: this is hard.

It takes tremendous emotional control and ego suppression to fight your need to immediately be heard, to be “right,” and to feel in control. Ironically, you gain control and end up being “right”—achieving your objective—by putting the other party’s communication and emotional needs first.

Key strategies and tactics

With the environment set, you can move on to more tactical steps to move your negotiation forward. What follows are just a few of the more interesting and useful concepts Voss shares from his time with the FBI.

Asking questions

Voss argues most people behave schizophrenically in a negotiation, either speaking or thinking about what they will say next—and rarely listening. The voice in our head is constantly yelling at us, writing dialogue scripts on the fly and doing a poor job of anticipating our counterpart’s next actions.

Quiet the voice in your head focusing completely on what the other person has to say. Ask calibrated and open-ended questions that start with the journalistic classics who, what, when, where, why, and how. Get the other party to open up and talk about their objectives. But be careful with “why,” as why-questions usually come off as aggressive or accusatory. What and how usually work best.

Great negotiators uncover the “black swans,” or hidden surprises, held by the other side that greatly affect a deal. Voss thinks each side usually has three surprises, or pieces of information, that if discovered will change the balance and trajectory of a negotiation.

Question yourself as well—especially your own assumptions. This helps you stay emotionally open to other possibilities and agile in a fluid negotiating situation.

Mirroring, or isopraxism, is a way to creating bonding, comfort, and to keep the other party talking. At the FBI, mirroring is simply about repeating the last (or most important) three words back to the speaker to convey a sense of empathy and collaboration:

”By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just just said and sustain the process of connecting. Psychologist Richard Wiseman created a study using waiters to identify what was the more effective method of creating a connection with strangers: mirroring or positive reinforcement.

One group of waiters, using positive reinforcement, lavished pride and encouragement on patrons using words such as “great,” “no problem,” and “sure” in response to each order. The other group of waiters mirrored their customers simply by repeating their orders back to them. The results were stunning: the average tip of the waiters who mirrored was 70 percent more than of those those who used positive reinforcement.

Labeling is the close cousin of mirroring, in which you acknowledge and label the emotions and intentions of the other party. But avoid using “I” in your observations. Instead, lead with “It seems like,” or, “It feels like.” For example: “It seems like you want to complete this this week,” instead of “I feel like you want to complete this this week.” Using “I” creates separation and defensiveness.

Finally, don’t get wrapped up what the other person is asking for, but rather focus on their interests—why they are asking for it. Calibrated questions and mirroring will reveal the answers.

Voice as a tone-setter

Voss says there are three tones of voice available to us during negotiation. Most of the time, you should use the first option: the positive/playful voice, as that builds comfort, repore, and collaboration.

The “late-night FM radio DJ voice” connotes authority, but calmly. When an item is non-negotiable for you, you can serenely state your position, without inducing anxiety, and also without leaving the door open to a challenge against your position.

Picture yourself working as a DJ in 1970s, on the 3AM shift, at a jazz station. You might be saying, “We cannot accept a non-disclosure clause,” but your tone is that of the DJ introducing a Miles Davis song, with a whiskey in one hand and some awful unfiltered cigarette in the other. Calm, smooth, welcoming, and confident.

The third voice is the direct/assertive voice, which is mostly to be avoided. The assertive voice creates tension and pushback, and is used far too often in business discussions, usually when the speaker is feeling fear and lack of control.

“Irrational behavior”

When people appear to behave irrationally or make “crazy” decisions, it often indicates your failure as negotiator. People rarely act crazy—that’s just your perception. In reality, the person is operating from a perspective, rules, or pressure that you failed to discover.

For example:

  • They may be operating with incomplete information. Discover what they don’t know and supply the information.

  • They may have a constraint they don’t want to share, usually because they will appear powerless.

  • They may have other interests, such as changing goals or other outside objectives competing for their time and resources.


Leverage is fluid, emotion-based, and tips the balance of power. Voss states leverage comes in three flavors:

  • Positive - the ability to give or withhold something your counterpart wants.

  • Negative - the ability to make a counterpart suffer, often by invoking loss aversion.

  • Normative - using the other party’s norms and standards—their worldview—to advance your position. When someone takes a position that conflicts with their stated philosophy or practices, you can use that as leverage to gently steer them back on course.

Voss believes leverage can always be created, because leverage grows out of emotion. Negotiators must be aware of who holds leverage at any given time in a negotiation and act accordingly.

Additional quick tips

  • In a typical meeting, you can learn the most just before the meeting, or during the “wrap up” period.

  • Loss Aversion shows people are statistically more likely to act to avert a loss than to achieve an equal gain. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is often the most powerful motivator.

  • The perceived loss of autonomy is very powerful. Let the other side preserve the right to say “no.” In fact, push for a “no”—it is far more effective than pushing for a “yes,” which makes people feel like they are being forced into compliance. No feels like self-protection, and helps people relax.

  • Use a team to listen in a negotiation. We all have selective listening, filtered by our cognitive biases which are built around our goals and assumptions.

  • The barriers to reaching an agreement are often more powerful than the reasons to make a deal.

It’s impossible to sum up all the helpful details in this book. But if you question your own assumptions, listen far more than you speak, build comfort and a sense of control, affirm and echo the other side’s positions and feelings, you’ll be in a far better position to achieve a positive outcome.

In other words, you won’t be Harry Ellis.

*Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas classic. That’s non-negotiable. (Said in a late-night FM-DJ voice, of course.)

The “Shift List”: Books That Altered My Course

A good book creates a shift.

The shift can be as small—just your mood—or much bigger, changing your perspective forever. This is a list of books that created a shift in me. Call it a “Shift List,” and pronounce it carefully in polite company.


Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins

The next time you don’t feel like working out, flip this book open to pretty much any page. You’ll learn your excuses are invalid.

Goggins is a Navy Seal Veteran and super-endurance athlete. His upbringing was full of abuse, violence, and tragedy, and he uses that dark energy to push through physical and mental boundaries most of us would never even consider crossing.

Although the book is quite dark at times (and full of colorful language!), the overall message is that we are capable of far more than we think, and the greatest opponent we will ever face in life is our own minds.

(You can read my book notes for Can’t Hurt Me here.)

The New High Intensity Training, Ellington Darden

Many of us, when we think about fitness, imagine long workouts before the sun comes up, or after it goes down. We’ve been taught—by marketers—that we have to grind and grind to get ourselves lean and strong.

But maybe that’s not true. What if an hour or two a week were enough?

In this book, Ellington Darden details a workout system he helped create in the 1970s called High-Intensity Training (HIT). With HIT, you work out hard, but briefly. Each resistance exercise is limited to one set, taken to muscle failure, and the main goal is to move the weight slowly and with perfect form.

HIT aims to maximize your muscles’ time-under-load in order to trigger hypertrophy, the process under which muscle grows in response to physical challenge.

HIT workouts generally last 30 minutes or less, and are performed one to three times per week only.

The book lays out the principles and process of HIT, and includes the colorful history of the program’s development and deployment in the 1970s.

You’ll even learn why HIT was too much for the mighty Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential is Bourdain’s wildly entertaining autobiography and treatise on food and the restaurant industry. This is the book that kicked off his persona and led to the TV empire he created before his death in 2018.

Bourdain was a fantastic writer and storyteller. Underneath the stories of drug-fueled nights on the job and flaming-hot takes on food industry and those in it, Bourdain tells a messy, beautiful story about a man who followed his passion and battled his demons all along the way.


City On Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg

1970s New York City. A fascinating time in the city’s history, full of pessimism, theft, vandalism, bombings, and arson. The city was decaying into to a-past-its-peak dystopia (check out this photo collage), culminating with the blackout riots of 1977.

Hallberg’s thousand-page novel converges the storylines of a diverse set of characters, culminating with the blackout riots which occurred on July 13, 1977.

Some criticized the book for being too long and indulgent. But I love Hallberg’s writing style and the setting for the story. New York really was a dirty and sometimes dangerous place in the 1970s, and reading about just a few of the people making their way though that time, in various stages of their lives, terrific.

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

The story starts with a simple premise: a man in the Soviet era displeases his party, and finds himself prisoner in a Moscow hotel, where he spends the majority of his life. But far from being confined by his circumstances, Alexander Rostov live a rich, full life, with love, tragedy, loss, and redemption.

The writing itself is terrific, but the real takeaway for me is that even life lived on a small scale—a confined, seemingly punitive existence—can still be a big.


A Higher Call, Adam Makos

A Higher Call tells the story of two men on the opposite sides of World War II—Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler.

Much of the story is told from Stigler’s point of view, detailing what happens when normal people find themselves involuntarily serving the side of unbelievable evil.

The two mens’ lives intersect in the air, on the battlefield, and many, many years later as part of an extraordinary reunion.


Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits, Dave Barry

Sure, a lot of these stories are dated now. But the rhythm, exaggeration and surprises that define Barry’s writing taught me to appreciate humor and reading while I was growing up. Few newspaper columnists were better at pointing out life’s absurdities without trying to dunk on an opponent. Instead, Barry laughed with people, often placing himself in situations which allowed him to serve as court jester and the target of his own greatest mockery.

As a bonus, here are two of my favorite Barry columns of all time:

Dave Barry’s Hurricane Preparedness Guide
Post-9-11 column: “Just For Being Americans”


Quiet, Susan Cain

Open floor plans! After-hours “voluntary” social events! Endless brainstorming sessions! Corporate America is built to develop, deploy, and reward extroverts and extroverted behavior.

But half of us are introverts, to varying degrees. That means we build our energy in private, and expend it in group settings. Introverts can and do successfully navigate social situations—often we even enjoy them. But social situations have to be balanced with “Quiet” time to properly think and recharge.

Susan Cain looks at extroversion culture and lays out a path to allow introverts to protect their energy and thrive in a culture that expects us to be socially “on” all the time.

(You can read my notes on this book here.)

Win Bigly, Scott Adams

You will now be asked the impossible: take a deep breath, and for just a moment, set aside whatever feelings you have about Donald Trump.

Win Bigly is a very informative book about persuasion, told through the lens of 2016 Trump campaign. Dilbert creator Scott Adams wastes no time supporting or opposing Trump’s political positions (Adams claims to be far-left) but instead details how persuasion works and how Trump used it to create one of the more stunning political upsets in American history.

If you sell, if you’re a marketer, if you need to persuade anyone of anything, this book is incredibly useful.

Bonus: here’s a synopsis of the persuasion techniques discussed in the book.


Money: Master the Game, Tony Robbins

Most of us will never walk on hot coals with Tony, and I have no interest in jumping up and down at one of his many seminars. His other books failed to grab me and take me to new heights.

But this book is different. He interviews wealthy investors who really open up about their money strategies, and in the end Robbins distilled all that information into a straightforward plan to protect and grow your nest egg.


Have a Little Faith: A True Story, Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie rocketed Albom beyond the Detroit Free Press sports pages of my youth and into another stratosphere as a writer. But I prefer Have a Little Faith.

The book juxtaposes two experiences: that of an older Rabbi and young, African-American pastor in Detroit. Through the contrast Albom weaves together larger truths about faith and life for a cynical culture that definitely use more faith.


Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss

Chris Voss has seen your Harvard-fueled negotiating tactics and is having none of it. A veteran hostage negotiator for the FBI, Voss lays out negotiating strategies based on a belief that man has two systems of thinking: our animal mind, which is fast, instinctive, and emotional, and our rational, logical one.

Voss believes the animal mind drives the bus and leads our logical thinking, rather than the other way around. As a marketer, I agree with him.

What follows in his book are strategies for winning the emotional side of negotiating, which he frames not as a battle, but a process of discovery.

(You can view my book notes here.)


Joe Sugarman double-header: The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook, and Triggers

Sugarman’s AdWeek handbook is an adaptation of his part biographical/part analytical “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word.” The book details discusses ad writing from A to A to Z, including how to be a good writer in general, to the process of strategizing, developing, writing, and editing successful ads. Along the way, Sugarman weaves in stories about his businesses, which grew first in mail order on the strength of his long-form copywriting and storytelling skills. Sugarman often sold items others couldn’t by telling colorful stories about products and the inherent flaws. (His “ugly thermostat” ad is a personal favorite).

Later, Sugarman made another fortune in infomercials, selling Blu-Blocker sunglasses (20 million pairs of them, to be exact).

Another Sugarman book, Triggers, is more clinical, laying out 30 sales tools to persuade, influence, and persuade prospects, whether selling in person or in developing advertising copy. I’ve completed a cheat sheet to Sugarman’s triggers, and you can read them here.

Here’s a link to a rundown of Sugarman’s psychological triggers, and here are my book notes for The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook.

If none of these books catch your interest, here’s a more complete list of everything I’ve read.

Ten ways to build stronger relationships in partnership marketing

Here's the good news: it's pretty straightforward to stand out as a good marketing partner. Here's the bad news: You have to be well-organized, dilligent, and consciencious. Also: It's hard work.

All I can write is what I know, what's worked for me. I'm definitely not good at doing all these things all the time and sometimes I fail--as do the many excellent people I work with, which is why being forgiving is critical trait for success.

But working in this space over time, I've seen that if you can be consistent -- not perfect -- in these areas, you'll be more successful than not. You'll also attract better people and companies to partner with.

Do what you say
Don't say you're doing to do something by a certain time and then not do it. Don't offer up a communication component in your partner program and then leave it out when it comes time to execute. Do what you say and say what you do.

This is really about organization, not honesty. Most people are honest in their dealings. But you need to keep track of your commitments and then execute.

If you're going to miss a deadline (as we all do from time to time) send up a flare in advance. Let your partner know the miss is coming, and reach out share the date and time when you will deliver on your commitment. You'll be forgiven fare more often than not.

Exceed expectations in unanticipated ways. Leave yourself some wiggle room to overperform. Deliver ahead of schedule, or offer some extra value that maybe you didn't put on the table as part of the core negotiation.

Give more than people expect and you'll get more back than you expect. Very simple.

Hand-write thank you notes
This is a trick I learned from a former boss. No one does this anymore, because it's a pain. You need stamps, thank you cards, a decent pen, and penmanship that doesn't resemble hieroglyphics. So much easier to dash off an email -- which is why everyone sends the email.

I'm not always great about doing this, but when I do, it always has a positive effect. Try it five times and see what happens.

I'm an introvert at times, which is unique amongst many of my peers in partnership marketing. It also gives me an advantage. Because I'm not trying to dominate the conversation, I'm more inclined to hear what the other person says.

So just stop talking. Ask good questions and hear the replies. You will craft a better partnership program and build more trust when you really hear what the other person is saying. They will see it in your actions, which will better align to their needs and goals. Listening pays off.

Understand your partner's business

Listening to your marketing partner is critical here, but so is a little research on your part. The internet is your friend. Read the partner's web content. What is their USP? Read customer reviews. Understand who else plays in their space.

In some ways, you're acting as an ad agency for your partner by providing them with marketing opportunities. Know their business and you will serve it better. Much better.

Understand what you accelerate
The only reason to enter a marketing partnership is to either accelerate or deliver more efficiently business growth and/or customer value. What are you bringing to the table that creates velocity for your partner? Why aren't they just doing it on their own? Think this through and be able to articulate it clearly and simply.

Jointly define success
You've put a new deal in place. You have your marketing plan and your action plan and you're ready to run. Where's the finish line? And is your partner's finish line in the same place as yours? How will you measure pace along the way to know if things are going well? Jointly agree on a set of metrics -- revenue, service level markers, lead conversion, whatever -- that sets a common and objective definition of success.

Say yes
Be open to new ideas and alternate ways of doing things. The best way to say yes and to be open to trying new things is to minimize risk -- the risk of wasting money, yes, but also wasting time. Develop a simple-to-implement testing framework that lets you address a subset of customers and see if it works. Your testing framework should let you ramp up and ramp down quickly. Sometimes we say no because doing a program seems like a ton of work and the return is uncertain. You can miss big opportunities that way, however. So set up your nimble marketing lab and always have petri dishes with interesting things growing in them. Some will grow bold and bright. Some you'll just toss in the trash. But you'll never blow up the whole building if you have your lab set up and experiment correctly.

Say no
Sometimes it's just wrong for your customers, for your partnership strategy and capabilities, or for your company. And then you need to politely say no and move on. But in order to differentiate between what belongs in the testing lab and what belongs in someone else's lab, you must have a deep understanding of your customers, partnership strategy and program capabilities. Being able to say no quickly is a gift -- to yourself, your team and also to the other party, who, when you say no for the right reasons, will be given time and energy to work on something that will be more successful.

Be forgiving. Sometimes.
We all make mistakes. So forgive occasional transgressions and just move forward. Forgiving comes with caveats, however. Don't forgive patterns of mistakes -- the same issues over and over. And don't forgive bad or subversive behavior.

If you do forgive people for the same issues over and over, or tolerate unseemly behavior, then you get what you deserve: misery and a big drain on your time and energy. Know the difference between when to forgive and when to simply move on. When it's time to move on, do so without drama. 

Building great partnership marketing relationships isn't complicated. But it does take organization, strategy, and consistency. Start there and you'll have a strong foundation for your programs.

How to construct a marketing partnership press release announcement

Constructing a decent press release is hard enough. First you actually have to write something compelling, and then the Approval Olympics begin. You have to deal with internal egos -- somebody wants to re-write their quote. And you have to deal with legal. And you probably have other layers of approvals, often by people with little understanding of good PR or the concept of an actual news hook.

If you're writing a release about a new partnership initiative or alliance, you get to do all those things twice. And you get the added bonus of unfamiliar terrain -- what are the sacred cows of your partner? How does the partner organization's management like to be positioned to the media? What sets off the legal alarm bells for your partner?

So good luck with all of that. Fortunately there are some simple rules that can help you navigate the land mines and construct a compelling release.

Say glowing things about the other company
When quoting executives in press releases, the quotes are self-serving to the company 99.999 percent of the time. Change things up. Use the opportunity to create a little social proof: each side's quote should say something positive about the other company. 

Customer value, customer value, customer value
Why is the partnership good for each company's customers? That has to be the focus of the release -- it is all that matters. And if you can't articulate that clearly and succinctly, why did you do the deal? 

Check ALL the approval boxes and have a paper trail
Make sure all the laywers and PR people and executives from both sides have signed off on the release -- and have proof of all approvals. It's hard enough to put deals together; don't let yours get torpedoed by missing an approval on either side. Work together on this. Know in advance who must approve the release from both sides, check all the boxes and have proof.

Explain how 1 + 1 equals more than two
Again, from the customer perspective, explain how your companies create extra value by working together. What are you bringing to the marketplace together that each could not do on their own?

Have a clear customer call-to-action
A call-to-action in a press release? Absolutely. Be clear and specific about how customers can take advantage of the value created by your new partnership.

Press releases can be another valuable tool in getting a new partnership started off right. Be organized, be conscientious, and remember who you're ultimately writing for -- customers -- and you'll be on your way.

Eight uncommon paths to affiliate marketing success

Supposedly, there is a well-worn set of pathways to success in affiliate marketing. I see lots of common advice and tactics shared for publishers and advertisers. 

Thanks to some great partners, our affiliate and referral marketing programs have grown year after year. And also thanks to those partners, we haven't followed many “conventional” paths in affiliate marketing on the way to growth.

These paths can work for both advertisers and publishers. My experience is from the advertiser side of things, but I've seen our best publishing partners succeed by walking the same paths. 

I hope this post challenges your thinking and helps you create some alternate paths of your own on the way to affiliate marketing success.

1. If success is quick or sudden, worry.

Maybe a new partner takes off like a rocket. Or, even more concerning, a middling partner suddenly delivers big results out of nowhere.

Don’t celebrate. Worry about why it is happening.

Slow and steady growth tells you things are happening methodically and authentically. As an advertiser, when you see huge sales spikes, you have to investigate. Hopefully, you have a good relationships and can have open conversations about the tactics driving rapid growth.

And if you don't get a clear answer … see guideline #5. 

2. Build direct relationships.

Direct relationships trump all. Middlemen -- affiliate networks and affiliate agencies -- make it harder to build strong and direct relationships.

The agencies and networks may well help you add new partners quickly. They can also help root out fraud to some degree. The agencies tell you you need them to police the networks for you -- even though both parties generally earn commissions on every sale. 

The best way to add new partners and root out fraud is to know exactly who you are working with. The foundation for any successful business partnership lies in the relationship. This is harder to do with a middleman in between. Not impossible, but harder. 

Recruit and develop your own relationships as much as you can. Use your own tracking and infrastructure if you can. Move slowly. Understand how you can bring the most value to your partner to create the best possible situation for both parties.

3. Get great at writing.

You can’t succeed as a publisher or advertiser if you can’t write.

If you’re an advertiser, you need to write compelling copy to spark relationships with new publishers. You need to publish clear and concise guidelines about the marketing tactics you encourage and those you won’t tolerate. You need to provide publishers with content and offers that are captivating to audiences. 

And obviously, if you're a publisher, content is everything. Delivering value to your audience through sharp writing is everything. 

So write well. Practice, test, refine.

And the easiest way to get better at writing?

Read. Fiction books. Non-fiction books. High-quality web content. Read a ton and with variety.

Read every day. Write every day. Repeat. 

4. Don’t race to create a huge stable of partners.

Some publishers use spyware (or “toolbars”) to siphon off web traffic already headed to an advertiser's site, then take margin for a sale the advertiser was about to get anyway. Often, the customer doesn't even know this is happening. They are just searching, a simple redirect occurs, and they arrive at the same destination, but are now classified as an affiliate customer.

This is one way advertisers get gamed. There are others.

If you ramp your program quickly, fraud in all its forms is hard to monitor.  Know the people you partner with. Then do everything you can to help your partners maximize their success. Slowly.

5. Be slow to partner and quick to walk away.

Whether an advertiser or a publisher, you are the company you keep.

Anybody can make an honest mistake once. (Lord knows I'm a living testament to that truth.) But if someone makes a “mistake” two or more times -- underhanded tactics, violation of your affiliate rules, uncommunicated changes in commission structure -- they will probably do it ten times.

I’ve learned the hard way. I still learn the hard way, because I hate giving up.

You don’t have to learn the hard way. Get out if there are repeated problems with a partner.

6. Understand your customer. And keep learning about her.

If you're an advertiser and unsure who to partner with, look to your customer. Who is she? What is she interested in? What behaviors and research does she undertake before buying your product?

Customer insight will guide you to the right partners.

As a publisher, survey your audience. What are they struggling with? What products and services do they value? Your audience will guide you toward the right advertisers.

Let customers show you the way.

7. Be real about incrementality. Then get better at it.

Not all affiliate sales are incremental. Some sales are siphoned off from other marketing channels. Some sales come from people who would’ve bought from you regardless.

This is a fact, so don't hide from it. Embrace it and work with it.

Guess what? No marketing channel delivers 100% incremental sales.

Search engine marketing doesn’t. Direct mail doesn't. Television? TV is like a broken fire hose that sometimes sprays the correct target.

Yet SEM, direct mail, and TV advertising are smart marketing choices for many companies. Affiliate marketing is often a smart choice, too.

So be real about the fact that not all affiliate sales are incremental. Then continuously get better at “truing up” your affiliate program, whether you're a publisher or advertiser. Make it more targeted, measured, and value-driven by working the guidelines on this list.

Publishers owe it to advertisers to send as much value -- truly incremental sales -- as they can. Advertisers should strive, for the sake of margins and accurate marketing decisions, to continually improve their ability to measure incrementality and attribution.

That’s the long game that builds real value. The game that avoids going for the quick wins that eventually buckle and collapse underneath you.

8. Break from any of these pathways as needed.

Sometimes you can’t build a relationship directly. Or you are resource constrained, and you need an agency. Or you’re new to the game, and a network or agency can help you avoid seedy players by weeding some of them out in advance.

That's fine. By all means, use the resources and expertise of those groups.

I've personally been part of a very successful retail partnership using an agency in the middle. For the right opportunity, I’d do it again. But I prefer to work direct.

That’s the thing about pathways. There are almost always other ways to get to your destination.

Technology changes. The fundamentals of great business partnerships do not.

Regardless of platform, successful affiliate partnerships still come down to basic human truths. Be honest. Be likeable. Serve your partners with great value and they will reward you.

Because these are simple human truths, they will never change even as technology does. At least not until the robots take over.