Pioneered by visionaries like Amazon and Google, referral programs have been one of the more powerful e-commerce success stories of the Internet age. Based on the fact that they are generally not inclusive to a select group, but rather are available to anyone who wants to participate, on-line referral programs have created new passive revenue opportunities for the masses. And in addition to the goodwill which comes from sharing revenue with the ecosystem, companies can receive significant viral marketing benefits through its network of referrers.
The Snowcovered marketplace leveraged this technique very successfully in the early years of the DotNetNuke project, creating a vibrant network of community and vendor websites which helped elevate the visibility and commercial success of the platform. In fact, in these early stages we even included a referral link on the home page of the dotnetnuke.com website, which allowed us to generate some much needed revenue to help keep the open source project afloat.
When DNN Corp acquired Snowcovered in 2009, we were very excited to take over the management of its well established e-commerce engine. We believed the referral program was one if its most valuable assets, as it was an area which we had failed to cultivate in our own Marketplace. However, as we began to analyze the internals of the Snowcovered referral program, we noticed that the algorithm used for determining referral commissions had changed in recent years. The mechanics of the original program had been very simple and it was one of the reasons why it had been so widely embraced by the community. However, in an attempt to handle some of the more complicated scenarios, changes had been made to the program which resulted in some unfortunate limitations. These limitations affected the predictability of the program and had stifled its growth and adoption in recent years. In fact, the changes to the referral program had actually begun to affect the overall health of the channel as vendors looked for alternatives with greater accuracy and predictability.
Referral programs are all about who gets credit for a referral event ( a referral event could be a visitor click-through, a customer acquisition, an e-commerce transaction, etc… ). Under the Snowcovered program, a referrer was identified by the referral code utilized during the first e-commerce transaction made by a customer. Once this event occurred, the referrer “owned” the customer for the period of 1 year. This “stickiness” allowed the referrer to benefit from subsequent customer purchases during the year. However, once the year had passed, the referral relationship expired; and from that point on, the customer could no longer be associated to any referrer. Essentially, what this meant was that referrers could only benefit from new customers entering the DotNetNuke ecosystem – older customers would be exempt. So the referral program was not taking advantage of the compounding effect offered by the growth of the platform. In addition, the fact that the initial referrer “owned” a customer for a year meant that other referrers were blocked from receiving any recognition – even in cases where they were far more deserving ( ie. in the case of a vendor who refers a customer to Snowcovered to purchase one of their own products ). This “stickiness” led to abuse of the program as it encouraged some organizations to try and obtain ownership of as many new DNN customers as possible; thereby preventing other members of the ecosystem from receiving referral benefits.
Rhonda Giedt, General Manager of Marketplace Operations for DotNetNuke Corporation, was given the challenging task of unraveling the Snowcovered referral program with an end goal of revitalizing its health and better delivering on the original intentions of providing revenue opportunities to both vendors and consumers in the DotNetNuke ecosystem. After much analysis and discussion with various stakeholders, she concluded that the best approach was to keep the program as simple as possible and restore the mechanics of the original model which had led to its early success. Predictability and transparency are the anchor characteristics of any successful referral program and Rhonda wanted to ensure the needs of the various stakeholders were effectively addressed.
From a vendor perspective, the biggest challenge with the referral program was the fact that if a vendor utilized their own website for product marketing materials and then redirected a customer to Snowcovered to allow for a purchase, it was not clear if the vendor would receive a referral benefit or not. Since the referral benefit effectively allowed a vendor to save 10% of the transaction processing fee, this unpredictability negatively impacted the benefit of using Snowcovered as a turn-key e-commerce gateway. To mitigate this issue, some vendors began rolling their own e-commerce solutions so they could sell products directly on their own websites. This fragmentation had begun to disrupt the cohesiveness of the DotNetNuke extensions ecosystem which has traditionally been one of the greatest strengths of the platform.
The new Referral program launched in August 2010 solved this problem. The solution allows vendors to reliably market their products on their own sites and include referral links to their listings on Snowcovered. When a customer clicks on a link on the vendor site and purchases through Snowcovered, the vendor is GUARANTEED to receive a 10% referral commission. This predictability should reduce the need for vendors to come up with their e-commerce solutions… reducing liability, privacy, and security considerations for themselves and their customers. In addition to the improvements around predictability, the new Referral program also includes some advanced analytics capabilities so that vendors can more granularly manage and measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
From a community perspective, the lack of predictability was also a source of frustration for community resource sites who were referring traffic to Snowcovered. Many community resource sites attempt to offset their expenses by generating a passive revenue stream from referral programs such as Adsense, Amazon, etc… Within our ecosystem, the DotNetNuke Referral program was also used in this capacity; however, the mechanics of the program made it very difficult for these sites to correlate the traffic they were referring to the commissions they received. Under the revised program when a community resource site refers a visitor and that visitor makes a purchase, the site has the assurance that they will receive the full credit they deserve.
Since the new Referral program was launched in August 2010, DotNetNuke Corporation has paid out 100% more referral commissions than we did under the old program. We have also increased the number of referral program registrants by 50% over the old program. So if you were discouraged by the old Referral program, or have been dragging your feet in terms of signing up for the new program, I highly encourage you to sign up today!