How To Build An Influencer Marketing Program

Table of Contents

The playbook you’re reading was built from over seven years of in-depth experience in influencer marketing. While the landscape has significantly evolved since I began my journey at Discord in 2016, the essential principles remain the same. And it’s these principles that are at the heart of this playbook.

This playbook is more than just a static guide; it’s designed to be a dynamic, evolving source of knowledge aimed at empowering businesses of any scale to effectively collaborate with content creators. Whether you’re on the cusp of your first venture into influencer marketing or looking to optimize an established program, this playbook offers insights to validate your approach or improve your strategy.

Success with influencers isn’t always straightforward, but it’s certainly achievable. It requires the right mindset, the appropriate tools, and a commitment to navigate the learning curve. It’s not about quick fixes or instant profits; it’s about building a robust, impactful program that drives real business results over time. By leveraging the insights shared in this playbook, I hope you’ll accelerate your journey and reach your goals faster.

But remember, the learning process is reciprocal; I’m as keen to learn from your experiences as I hope you are to learn from mine. I encourage you to reach out with any questions, suggestions, or ideas you’d like to share. You’ll find links to my social profiles and a contact form at the top of this page. I also invite you to complete a brief survey at the bottom of the page. The information you share will not only help me fine-tune this playbook but also enhance its value for everyone else in this community.

Now, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of influencer marketing together.

Understanding the Playbook

Structure of the Playbook

The Influencers at Scale playbook is structured as follows:

  • We’ll start with your company’s mission (“why”) and metrics (“how”). We can’t do anything without bringing these two pieces to the table.
  • From there, we’ll connect the company-level why and how to content creators–why do you want to work with creators (eg. versus other marketing channels) and how will you measure success?
  • Next, think about your future partners. Why do they want to work with you? What do you have to offer them beyond a paycheck?
  • Then, it’s on to metrics, models, and money. These are the three pillars of your future success.
  • Finally, we’ll go through each stage of the program step-by-step using something called the P-Process–a light-weight business development framework I learned from Discord CMO Eros Resmini.
  • I’ll include some notes on how to plan for scale and program maintenance over time at the end of the playbook.
  • The result is a playbook that is intended to be a complete, end-to-end roadmap for how to build, launch, and grow your influencer program at scale.

I’ll be sharing a plethora of stories, anecdotes, and evidence from my experience working with creators, both at Discord and beyond. My hope is that they’ll help you grasp the core concepts and gain insight into the reasoning behind its structure.

Scope of the Playbook


Almost all of my experience working with creators is with software but I also have experience working with influencers in consumer electronics, fashion, and CPG. I believe this has no impact on how the program functions. However, you should expect to have to contextualize or adjust certain details based on the product, market, and industry your business operates in.

You may not be able to reach the same level of scale. You may have more significant challenges with discovery, agency representation (much more common since I started in 2016), competitive pressure, and so on. That’s okay. Take what works and leave what doesn’t. (I don’t recommend abandoning the P-Process!)

I will be adding additional information to this playbook as I learn more about how it functions across industries and business models.


The playbook as it is today is heavily based on my experience Twitch and YouTube. I have had some experience testing influencers on Instagram and Twitter with mixed results. I’ve not yet touched TikTok.

However, although some of the details differ across platforms, I believe the structure of the program remains fundamentally unchanged. This is a strategy, not a set of bespoke tactics.

I will add specific support and detail for other platforms over time as I continue to grow and improve the playbook.

Wide vs. Deep (Scale vs. Spokesperson)

In contrast to the spokesperson model of influencer marketing, where brands integrate deeply with a narrow set of select partners, our goal is to build a large-scale influencer program involving light-touch relationships with dozens or even hundreds of creators.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful relationships. Nor does it mean you can’t pick some top performers and build them into brand spokespeople. I just want to be clear about what we’re going for here so there are no surprises.


I don’t go heavily into tools in this playbook, except to mention when and how to work with tools as well as the tools I have used and how I used them. I will do my best to include free (or freemium) tools in the playbook to help everyone get what they need.

For anyone starting out, manual research and outreach is what I recommend anyways. Rushing for tools is putting the cart before the horse.

That said, I do have a tool database on the roadmap, so I will be adding more tool related content over time.

Step 1: Establish Strategy, Metrics, and Money

Let’s start with a miniature existential crisis:

Every company should have a mission (the “why”); every mission should have a metric (the “how”).

If you’re not clear on either of these, stop now and don’t go any further. No amount of marketing will help you if you don’t know your why and your how.

Since marketing should always be aligned with what the business needs the most, any confusion about business goals translates directly to chaos in marketing.

So start by answering these questions:

  1. Why does your business exist? What problem are you solving?
  2. How do you measure success? What are your OKRs?

At Discord, our mission was to become the best text and voice chat app for gamers. Our metric was retention, or Monthly Active Users (MAU). The whole company reviewed our mission and our metric at every weekly all-hands. Everyone knew exactly what we were doing.

With those two answers in hand, you’re ready to ask yourself the final question:

  1. Why do you want to work with influencers?

The marketing team must also have a good answer to this question. There are myriad ways to market businesses, so get clear on why influencers are the right choice versus all other available choices.

Funnily enough, Discord didn’t choose influencers; influencers chose Discord. After a shoutout from Lirik at TwitchCon 2015, the company noticed a huge corresponding spike in users. Curious about the possibility of pursuing partnerships with Twitch streamers, the early Discord marketing team picked up a handful of additional streamers and ran an experiment. The experiment worked, which is when they hired me to bring scale to the program.

Strategy: What Can Influencers Do For You

The potential of influencer marketing is only limited by your imagination. In fact, many influencers I know complain that brands aren’t creative enough when they think about how to include influencers in their business.

That said, some of the most common ways influencers help businesses include:

  • Borrowed Authority (the “Halo Effect”) – Build credibility and authenticity within niche audiences
  • Creative Strategy & Content Production – Find innovative ideas for brand promotions and fill creative pipelines for paid advertising
  • Generate Audience Insight – Uncover audience insights to improve every aspect of your business–from marketing to product to support.

Take 30-60 minutes to write down your current business challenges and then think of all the ways influencers could help you address those challenges. When you’re down, stack rank them in order of most to least effective.

For more on that, check out my guide on building an ICE List.

If you can come up with a list like this for your own business and you’re still convinced influencers are the best path forward, then it’s time to dive into the nuts and bolts.

Metrics, Models, and Money (Do Not Skip This)

Before we hunt for our first creator, send our first email, or sling our first contract, there are three mission-critical pieces that must be in place:

  1. The One Big Number
  2. The Performance Model
  3. The Pricing Strategy

Every company, no matter the level of maturity, should be capable of coming up with all three of these—even if they’re built on little more than assumptions to begin with. Making the attempt at a guess and proving yourself wrong with data is still something worth doing—done is better than perfect!

Metrics: Choosing Your One Big Number

The trouble with influencers is they are capable of impacting a large variety of metrics. With such versatility, it’s critical that you decide for yourself what success looks like for your company. With that in mind, assign a number, what I call the One Big Number (OBN), to your program to measure performance.

Don’t just default to sales or brand impressions! Your opportunities to work with creators are limited mostly by your imagination. Don’t be afraid to get creative about your business challenges and how influencer marketing can contribute to a solution.

Discord was primarily concerned with growth in retained (i.e. active) users. We had no revenue to track but we had to come up with something, which is why we invented Cost Per Retained User (CPRU).

We set strict cost thresholds as our KPI so we could “profitably” (or perhaps “affordably”) acquire retained users at a cost we were willing to pay. Our OBN never changed–CPRU was still the core metric when I left the company in 2019 (though I’m assuming Nitro revenue may have replaced it by now).

All performance-based marketing and business development programs were aimed at driving performance against this metric. Some BD and Community programs were spared, but not many.

Now it’s your turn. What will your OBN be? Make a decision and write it down, including a definition of the metric and how it will be measured. You’ll need it for what comes next.

Models: Estimating Program Performance

It’s spreadsheet time–my favorite! (No, I’m not being sarcastic.)

Pop open a spreadsheet on Excel or Drive and prepare to build your performance model. The model you’re about to build will be the foundation for your budget and your quarterly/annual goals as well as the seed of your pricing strategy, which we’ll get to next.

There are two ways to attack this model:

  1. Top-down: Start with your growth target, add in estimated costs and performance benchmarks, and generate a required budget to hit the number.
  2. Bottoms-up: Start with your budget, add in estimated costs and performance benchmarks, and generate an estimated performance outcome.

There is no right or wrong between either method. Regardless, you will be adjusting the performance expectations or the budget inputs according to your company goals, performance expectations, and what you can afford.

After this exercise you should have the following numbers:

  • Estimated Budget
  • Growth Target
  • Estimated Conversion Rate
  • Benchmark cost for your One Big Number (eg. $100 CAC, $10 CPM, $20 per UGC, etc.)

If you’re missing data, make your best guess. Don’t rely solely on industry benchmarks. As a rule, I always draft my assumptions based on my current best or estimated business performance. You’ll find out your true numbers soon enough once you start running small-scale tests.

Money: Craft Your Pricing

In this section, I’ll first talk briefly about setting aspiration and walk-away points in your pricing. Then, I’ll go through each of the three types of deal structures: flat fee, tiered performance, and product only/product plus cash (generally only applies to ecommerce).

How Much To Pay

Everyone wants to know what to pay for influencers. It’s fine to ask around for market rate, or even just pay what creators ask for when you’re just getting started, but nobody else can define what your pricing should be in the long run. Only you can decide what’s best for your business.

Once you’ve picked your price benchmark, that will become your walk-away point. As long as performance is your concern, you will not, without an extremely good reason, pay more than this price to work with an influencer. (Spoiler alert: this should almost never happen.)

Based on that number, set an aspiration point. This could be 30-50% of your walk-away point (eg. $1,000 walk-away, $300-500 aspiration) so as to give yourself plenty of breathing room for negotiations.

Stick this in a table in a spreadsheet. You’ll use it as a template to play with numbers and build offers in real time during the P2 phase. You’ll also want to have it as you get into different pricing structures, such as tiered-performance and revenue share.

Aspiration and Walk-Away Points

Once you’ve picked your price benchmark, that will become your walk-away point. As long as performance is your concern, you will not, without an extremely good reason, pay more than this price to work with an influencer. (Spoiler alert: this should almost never happen.)

Based on that number, set an aspiration point. This could be 30-50% of your walk-away point (eg. $1,000 walk-away, $300-500 aspiration) so as to give yourself plenty of breathing room for negotiations.

Stick this in a table in a spreadsheet. You’ll use it as a template to play with numbers and build offers in real time during the P2 phase. You’ll also want to have it as you get into different pricing structures, such as tiered-performance and revenue share.

When you talk to a creator, you should have your metrics filled out in your pricing table and an idea of what kind of offer you are prepared to make between your aspiration and walk-away points.

It might look something like this:

Price PointTarget CAC ($)Cost Per 100 Results ($)

Your aspiration point shows you what the best-case scenario is for your pricing. If the creator agrees to your aspiration price, you should be happy that you made a good deal.

Your walk-away point is your worst-case scenario. If you’re paying this number, it’s because you believe in the partner and want to make a deal. Do not exceed this number without an exceptional reason (almost never happens). You have put this number in place to protect yourself against over-paying creators. Save yourself the headache and the angry meeting with the finance department or CEO and be militant about maintaining this barrier.

As you go through P2, adjust the pricing numbers in your table. Copy/paste the same table two or three times to play with different numbers. If you find out you were willing to pay $500 but the creator is happy with $300, adjust your pricing down accordingly.

You’re a business, not a charity. Do not overpay.

More on this in the P2/P3 sections below.

Deal Structures

Flat Fee

The Flat Fee model is simple: I pay you X in return for Y deliverables.

To build your flat fee, simply use the benchmark range you set in your model to build your aspiration and walk-away points.

I mainly use flat fee deal structures when I want a set of agreed-upon deliverables on a monthly basis.

I believe this structure works best for always-on/evergreen style brand activations that produce a steady drumbeat of content and consistent messaging in the market. That said, don’t be afraid to start here if you’re just getting up and running.

Keeping deal terms easy will allow you to move faster an learn, even if you’re sacrificing some price efficiency or revenue performance.

Tiered Performance

This deal structure primarily exists to incentivize creators to work hard and over-perform. However, it is more complicated and creates more friction in the P2/P3 parts of the process. If you want to keep it simple, start with the Flat Fee structure before moving up to Tiered Performance.

Here’s how it works:

You will pay a base fee that is paying the creator for their labor. Then, set a sliding scale of benchmarks for them to hit that trigger additional payments. The additional payments should help them achieve as much as 2-3x their original asking price.

It’s important you make each benchmark harder to hit. Don’t pay for linear performance; make the target more difficult to achieve at each level.

Use a three-tiered bonus structure and prepare the partner for the idea that they may not hit all three bonuses.

Here’s an example of what that might look like:

SalesCAC Target ($)Bonus ($)Cost ($)
Tier 1150401,0006,000
Tier 2229353,0008,000
Tier 3334305,00010,000

Generally speaking, the first target should be relatively achievable. Earning out even a little extra is a big incentive to work harder and earn more.

Smart creators will try to push your performance targets down (i.e. make them easier) and/or ask for more tiers to make it more likely for them to earn out.

You can shift your targets as a negotiation tool, or even shrink bonus payments to make their goals easier to hit, but avoid adding tiers.

If you must add tiers, add them on top, not in the middle. We are rewarding performance; not trying to pay people more for the hell of it.

Using this structure, the creator has a chance to earn big—potentially multiples higher than they asked for. However, they also have to significantly over-perform. Don’t ever get mad about paying out your bonuses! If you’re paying, then you’re winning.

Product Only/Product + Cash

First, a quick thought on product only deals: I think they’re increasingly difficult to pull off.

Brands are monetizing creators much earlier and the overall trend amongst creators is to value your work with brands much sooner. Furthermore, if you expect to get custom content and specific deliverables, that will generally come with a cost.

The result is, while many micro influencers will still take product-only deals, even they may ask for cash. They also have an extra consideration: shifting to audience monetization too early can harm growth rates. They may prefer to stay in growth mode until they’re more comfortable and better prepared to open the door to brand collaborations.

The product plus cash model works best for exclusive product or premium software, luxury goods, and high-ticket ecommerce, such as the custom gaming PCs I sold at NZXT. The PCs we built for our top partners were usually valued at $3000-5000 MSRP, which made it a valuable part of the bargaining equation.

Your company doesn’t have to sell a $3000 product to take advantage of this. Maybe you sell a $150 high-end electric kettle or a $200 backpack. Build that cost into your model. The right partner should understand that your product has value in the market and cost for you to produce. If they don’t respect that then they might not be a good fit for you.

Revenue Share

If you’re making money off the influencer’s activation, you should expect a question about revenue sharing. Answer this question internally beforehand: will you offer revenue sharing and how much?

There is no right or wrong answer for this question. It’s up to you. Discord didn’t do this because we didn’t have Discord Nitro when we began and didn’t prioritize selling Nitro once it launched. NZXT did use revenue share to offset cash risk with our six-figure deals and help our creators feel like they had a stake in their success. Do what’s best for you.

Here are a few questions to guide this conversation internally:

  1. Does your product have enough margin to support revenue sharing?
  2. Can you support the logistics of tracking sales and reporting them back to your partner?
  3. Are your analytics prepared to properly attribute sales to your partner?

If these questions confuse or intimidate you, or you don’t have easy answers, don’t offer revenue sharing yet. This may increase your cast cost up front or reduce your close rate on creators. So be it.

Wait until your business or program matures before you begin adding complexity.

With your why, your how, and your metrics, model, and money all firmly in place. It’s time to get into the nitty gritty of building and launching your first influencer partnerships.

That means it’s time to get into the P-Process.

Starting The P-Process

The P-Process is a light-weight business development (BD) framework former Discord CMO Eros Resmini came up with. As I understand it, he built the framework to help Discord CEO Jason Citron better understand BD’s work while they were working together on their first company—Open Feint.

It is almost too simple by design. You will be tempted to mess with it and overcomplicate it by adding extra stages or hair-splitting existing ones (eg. P2.2 or P5.1). Don’t do it!

I’ve personally run millions of dollars through this system without needing to change a thing. Trust me—it works.

Here’s how the P-Process maps to the stages of our influencer marketing playbook:

  • P0: Influencer Discovery and List Building
  • P1: Influencer Qualification and Initial Outreach
  • P2: The Influencer Interview
  • P3: Sales & Negotiations
  • P4: Contracting, Terms, and Conditions
  • P5: Execution

Read this article for a more in-depth summary of what each P-Stage involves.

If you follow this process step by step, you will succeed at finding, contacting, and closing influencers. It’s a lot of hard work but the results are there for anyone willing to put in the time and effort.

Step 2: P0 – Influencer Discovery and List Building

Influencer discovery is a time-consuming, meticulous process.

When getting started, I strongly recommend starting with a manual research process. Yes, it’s time consuming but you will build a critical understanding of your niche that will be invaluable to you. However, as your strategy matures and the value of influencer marketing for your organization becomes evident, investing in discovery tools is the first and best place to allocate budget.

A Word On Influencer Marketplaces

Tools like Social Cat and the TikTok Creator Marketplace are a big help for discovery. They’re also a great way to “try before you buy” by running small-scale campaigns at budgets you can afford to lose before investing more heavily. However, if you’re going to get serious about investing in influencers, you will want to have personal relationships with your partners.

Marketplace tools make this hard because they get between you and your prospective partner. It’s against their interest for you to go direct so they will fight to stop this from happening by locking you on the platform (eg. by not allowing you to export data or blocking contact information).

However, marketplace tools do make scale easier in certain situations. When I need to round up a large quantity of influencers rapidly to activate around a campaign, not only marketplaces but also agencies can help quickly pull together a roster for me. More on that later.

That said, it makes a big difference whether my creator partners actually know, like, and care about me and my product or service. I can’t know whether that’s the case if you don’t talk to them. We will cover this in depth in the P2 section down below.

Influencer Discovery

🛠 Note: More info on tools coming soon in my Influencer Tool Database.


For YouTube, I start using the basic YouTube search function for discovery and public tools like SocialBlade for data. However, I find YouTube is the hardest platform to find prospects at scale, so I recommend moving to a discovery tool when budget allows.


The Twitch tool I used was Noscope, which I used mainly to dump data into my own set of spreadsheets. We had a personal relationship with the founders that allowed me to set up some custom data exports with them.

Unfortunately, Noscope was acquired and ceased to be as useful (the acquirers turned it into their own client dashboard tool). As of 2021, the tool I use for Twitch streamers is Sullygnome.

Building Your P0 Prospect List

Your goal in P0 is to cast a wide net. We will use limited criteria to ensure we get the broadest list possible. We will further filter and refine that list in P1.

To build your P0 prospect list, there are three primary metrics to consider:

  1. Creator size: Is the influencer’s audience size significant enough to justify the time and investment?
  2. Content fit: Is the creator making the right content for your brand and product?
  3. Target audience: Is the influencer speaking to the demographic you aim to reach?

These criteria form the crux of your influencer discovery process. Let’s delve into each of them.

Creator Size

Creator size is a crucial consideration for two reasons. Firstly, the effort required to negotiate and finalize a deal is largely the same, irrespective of the influencer’s audience size. Thus, if you have to choose, go for the influencer with the larger audience, assuming you’re prepared to pay their cost.

However, it’s important to aim for diversity in your partners. Think of your whole program like a portfolio of investments, with a mix of large, mid, and small-size creators. This way, you spread your risk, learn more about how different-sized creators perform in your market, and wind up with a more balanced program overall.

Content Fit

A good product solves a specific problem or set of problems. That means not all content related to all problems is a good fit for your brand. However, we’ll save the in-depth brand pass for P1, so far now it’s enough to ensure a creator is generally active in your overall space (eg. gaming, coffee, fashion, beauty) in the beginning. We are casting a wide net

Target Audience

The final piece of the puzzle is the target audience. Use standard demographic information such as age, gender, and location to ensure you’re reaching the right people. For example, f you can’t sell your product outside the country your business is in, don’t speak to audiences who can’t buy.

Many tools track creator audience demographic. If you don’t have that, ask the creator for it in P2.

A Large P0 List Is A Good Thing

If you end this step with hundreds or even thousands of creators on your P0 list, don’t worry. We’re going to cut that list down dramatically in P1. In fact, that’s why I want you making a big list in P0—you can easily find yourself going from 1,000 down to just 100 creators after you complete your P1 review.

With your finished P0 list in hand, let’s keep rolling!

Step 3: P1 – Influencer Qualification & Outreach

P1 is all about refining your P0 list and ensuring a high level of brand compatibility with each potential influencer. This step involves additional quant-based filtering and a qualitative review of each creator’s content to verify its relevance and fit with your brand before we even think of emailing or DMing anyone.

This is important for two reasons:

  1. There are many mediocre creators but few good ones. We want to work with the best we can afford to hire.
  2. Since we will manually review each creator for qualitative brand fit, we want use strict criteria to reduce a large number of P0 prospects to a manageable number.

If you filter your list and still have a large (>100) number of P1-qualified prospects, then break your list into batches. If you get 20 done today, then email 20 today. No point in holding up your entire outreach program until you’ve run through every creator.

Quantitative Filtering: The Quality Score

Since we want to narrow our list to include only the best prospects first, I recommend using a metric I call the Quality Score. This is a simple score from 1 to 3 (3 is best; 1 is worst) that will allow you to separate your prospects into the appropriate buckets.

You’ll need a couple metrics:

  1. Average views (on long/short-form VOD) or reach (on static content)
  2. Average engagement

Remember: Never optimize for follower count. We pay for views; not followers.

To get your engagement metric, there are a number of different metrics you can use. I recommend using the “hardest” interaction behavior (eg. comments or viewing a livestream) as your benchmark for a creator’s audience engagement.

For example:

  • Livestreaming Content: Subscribers vs. Avg. Concurrent Viewers (CCU)
  • Social Content: Views vs. Comments

Note: You may need to get some data directly from some of your partners to fill this out completely (eg. Twitch doesn’t expose streamer subscriber counts so the streamer will have you tell you personally). Use an average percentage as an estimated calculation as a backfill until you get real data to replace it.

Then break out your Quality Score targets for your view and engagement metrics into something like this:

  • QS3 = 76th percentile+ (4th Quartile)
  • QS2 = 25-76th percentile (2nd and 3rd Quartile)
  • QS1 = less than 25th percentile (1st Quartile)

Important: To be a QS3, a creator must pass on both view and engagement metrics. If they pass one but not the other, they are an automatic QS2.

Filter out anyone who has a Quality Score of 1. If they fail to meet either or both of the views or engagement targets, now is not the right time to work with them.

Don’t delete your QS1 creators! Keep them in a spreadsheet “database” so you can revisit them later and see whether their metrics have improved.

Sort your spreadsheet based on Quality Score from High > Low (Descending) and prepare to go through each one of them in your qualitative brand fit review.

Qualitative Filtering: Brand Fit

A quick look at a YouTube video’s thumbnail, title, and perhaps a minute or two of the content is generally enough to gauge its suitability. Things to look out for:

  • Active posting schedule: make sure they’re still regularly making content.
  • Clickbait titles and thumbnails the video fails to deliver on: it’s not clickbait if the video lives up to the hype.
  • Obvious signs of mismatched values in both language and visuals: swearing, nudity, violence are obvious but certain types of humor, pranks, and jokes are subjective.
  • Product-audience fit: just because you think a creator or audience is aligned with your product, that doesn’t mean they are.

Here are examples of what I looked for on YouTube:

  • Games had to be multiplayer or otherwise have some kind of community element (eg. people who loved to talk about deck-builder strategies in games like Slay the Spire)
  • Okay with some hype and swear words in titles and thumbnails but excessive text and gratuitous nudity or violence were a no-go.
  • I completely ignored any gaming content centered on malicious pranks or trolling.

I might spend three to five minutes on each creator, but with a list of fewer than a hundred creators and a clear schedule, I could navigate through this task in one or two workdays at most.

Make sure you write down at least one thing you like about each creator in your spreadsheet as you review them. This will massively help you personalize your outreach messages!

Warning: Don’t Skip This Step

Seriously, don’t skip the brand fit check.

If you do, one or two things could wind up happening.

Firstly, you will end up initiating partnerships with creators who are not a good fit for your brand. That’s a waste of time and money on top of potential negative brand impact if the partnership launches. You will increase your risk of getting canceled on social media if this happens.

Secondly, if you approach a creator without having familiarized yourself with their content, you risk appearing unprepared and disrespectful when you talk to them. It’s crucial to make an effort to understand and appreciate the creator’s work and be able to articulate why it aligns with your brand.

Almost no one does this. My friend Paul got a $200,000 book contract offered to him by people who hadn’t even read his book.

Don’t be like them. Put in the work.

CRM Integration and Outreach

Once you’ve completed both quant and qual checks, you are now ready for outreach!

For this step, consider using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool integrated with your email. (I mainly use Streak.) This will help you track your conversations, automate your emails, and report on pipeline progress.

More advanced users will know how to use mail merge to automatically populate data into their emails and even set up automated outreach sequences. I’ll discuss that more in future updates.

In addition to tracking current conversations, a CRM tool will also allow you to keep a list of influencers who might not be a good fit now, but could potentially align with your brand in the future. As you trim down your list during the P2 stage, don’t delete the influencers who fail the quantitative pass. Instead, move them to a separate tab or spreadsheet. This will ensure you don’t lose track of potential future partners as they grow over time.

With your CRM in place and your emails prepared, it’s time to reach out to your potential influencers.

🛠 Email templates coming soon!

Follow-up and Transition to P2

Once you’ve sent out the outreach emails, the waiting game begins. To increase your chances of receiving a response, consider sending up to two or three follow-up emails. Creators, like all of us, receive a lot of emails, and your message might get lost in the mix.

In the early days, I also had creators telling me they thought my email was spam. Discord hadn’t been active in offering sponsorships so it took some time for some creators to realize the emails I sent were legit.

Once you receive a response from a creator, congratulations! You’ve officially entered the P2 phase.

Step 4: P2 – The Interview Stage

P2, also known as the Interview Stage, is a pivotal phase in the process of building relationships with content creators and their management teams. Its primary purpose is to cultivate a thorough understanding of the prospective partner’s business, aspirations, past brand activation experiences, and their expectations for your future partnership.

Begin by scheduling 45 minutes to an hour for each interview. As time goes on, you’ll get faster and you should be able to get entirely through P2 and P3 in one session of 30-45 minutes.

Don’t forget to send them an NDA and get it signed before you have any serious conversations!

Far too many folks working in influencer marketing are just trying to sling briefs and close deals without pausing to get to know the people they would be working with.

Yes, this is time consuming and laborious but do not skip it. You’ll see why it matters so much in a moment.

Take A Learning-First Approach

Before we go further, I want to make a critical point:

You’re going to be talking to a lot of people in P2. The conversations you’ll have are incredible opportunities to learn about how your ideal customers (your P2 creators are your ideal customers, right?) react to your product or service. Don’t waste them!

Use your conversations to learn more about the following things:

  1. Product feedback: If creators are confused about your product, message, or mission, so are your customers. Ask them to be brutally honest and give them permission to tell you what they truly think (otherwise they probably won’t).
  2. Key features and unique selling points (USPs): Watch people and how they behave—you’ll learn a ton. If cameras are on, look out for what makes a person’s eye go big, eyebrows go up, or their face light up. If you’re audio only, listen for changes in pitch, tone, and rate of speech. These are the physical signals someone is engaged and excited about what you’re discussing.
  3. How your product helps them do what they do, better: To get the best out of each creator, it’s absolutely necessary to help them understand how your partnership, product, or service helps them get more of what they already know they want (and maybe didn’t know they could have). If you don’t already have a good idea of that by now, use these conversations to learn more.

Here are a few pitfalls to look out for:

  1. Avoid speculative questions and answers. Don’t use “would you” questions and don’t put too much weight into “I would” answers. Instead, ask for concrete examples: “Tell me about a time when…” or “What else have you tried to solve this?”
  2. Don’t lead the witness. Avoid questions that put your words into the other person’s mouth.
  3. Don’t talk the whole time. You are here to learn; not to talk. If you’re talking more than the other person, you’re either selling (which we don’t do in P2) or looking for affirmation; not exploring what they think.

For more on this subject, go read the very excellent book Talking to Humans by Giff Constable and/or Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

Create Your Interview SOP

Our first step after opening an email conversation is to insist on having a live conversation. Some people will resist this—that’s a bad sign. Anyone who’s willing to do a deal sight unseen is likely not the right partner for you.

Think of the willingness to meet and talk live as a small test of their excitement and interest in you. Don’t compromise.

At Discord, we held all meetings on Discord. By doing this, we could ensure that the partner had Discord installed, knew how to use it, and was willing to engage with us on it. This strategy allowed us to filter out those who weren’t Discord users or were unwilling to adapt to our preferred mode of communication, further refining our list of potential partners.

I recommend taking no more than an hour to write down some thoughts on what’s important to you as you begin talking to creators. The earlier you can filter out creators who don’t fit in, the more time and money you’ll save.

Avoiding unnecessary conversations is a critical part of keeping your influencer program lean and effective.

Build Your Question Database

Schedule another hour to brainstorm questions for your creator conversation. Write them down in a Google Doc that you keep as a template. You will trim or add to the list as you learn more about what information was most important in your P2 conversations.

When you speak to a person, make a copy of the template questions document and fill it out in real-time. As time goes on, you will build a repository of information about each creator—whether you work with them or not—collected from each conversation.

This proactive approach allows you to create a comprehensive profile of each prospective partner, giving you a significant edge in structuring your offers and successfully negotiating. It’s also a wonderful relationship tool, as you can and should be asking personal questions about your partner to get to know them as a person.

The more you know about your partners as people, the easier it is to connect with them and do your best work together.

Key Areas of Focus

While building rapport is a big part of P2, you are also trying to get information you need to learn whether you think a deal can be done. Here are some of the most important things to learn about your prospective partners:

  1. Content: What’s working for them? What are they planning?
  2. Business: How do they make money? What are their goals?
  3. Experience: Which brands (if any) have they worked with? How did it go?

By exploring these areas, you will be learning whether what you would like to propose to them is something they’d be interested in. You should be either adjusting your offering in real time or preparing yourself to hear a “no thanks” once you’ve told the person what you have in mind.

I believe almost nobody takes the time to go to this level of detail and depth and really put the effort into getting to know the person they’re planning on working with. By putting in this level of effort, you will be well ahead of the race.

Once you’ve gotten all your important questions answered, it’s time to talk about money. Mastering the money part of the conversation will save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s the hardest but most important thing to get right.

The P2-P3 Dance: Don’t Talk About Money (Too Much)

In P2, you are not selling. I repeat, you are not selling.

However, some creators will refuse to either open a conversation or progress a conversation until they know what kind of numbers they can expect. If a creator refuses to even get on the call with you without talking about hard numbers, pass immediately.

But what if they start asking questions about payment in the middle of the conversation? There are two things you can do:

  1. Say you don’t have enough information yet to make a serious offer
  2. Offer them a range based on the numbers you’ve punched in to your pricing model or activations you’ve done with similar-sized creators.

If they bite on the first tactic, then you’re golden. Keep moving forward with the questions. If they insist on a number and you’re prepared to give them a morsel to chew on, try saying something like this:

For a channel like yours, we normally pay a range of $X-Y. However, these numbers can change depending on a variety of factors.

The only reason to give them a range is that you haven’t heard from them what kind of money they’re accustomed to making for brand sponsorships. Once you’ve given them this tidbit, ask them directly whether it meets their expectations.

Your goal is to hold back as much pricing information as possible while gathering as much information from them as you can. You will use this information, along with the pricing model we built way back in the beginning of this process, to craft your pitch.

We’re not trying to cheat anyone here! Rather, we want to make sure we’re not unnecessarily overpaying. Budgets are not unlimited and businesses have to make money—controlling cost is one of the best ways to achieve that.

Openly Discuss Terms and Conditions

Any time I lost a deal that wasn’t flat out because of money, it was because I didn’t gather—or share—enough information in the P2 interview.

The reason why we budget a big chunk of time for this call is so we also have the time to explain how we like to work with creators. Make sure you cover the following at minimum:

  • Campaign flight times (start/end dates)
  • Briefs, messaging, brand guidelines
  • Content posting schedule and cadence
  • Licensing and repurposing
  • Payment schedules and terms
  • What happens if they over-perform
  • What happens if they under-perform or fail to complete deliverables

Use some of your Interview SOP thinking time to go through your contract T&Cs in your mind. Think about what could be a sticking point for your partners and make sure you address it up front live with the creator.

I promise you that by doing this you’re saving yourself huge headaches down the line.

On Dealing With Talent Management

In 2016, almost no one had representation except a handful of top creators. I used to stroll into the inbox or the DMs, rarely having to worry about getting routed to someone’s agent or manager.

Nowadays creator talent management is commonplace. Even “small” creators get snapped up by talent management agencies if they see potential. As a result, don’t be surprised if an email or a DM results in something like this:

I’d love to talk about working together! Can you contact my manager/agent? Here’s their info…”

When this happens to you, don’t panic. However, do be prepared to pay an added premium to cover their management fees. You will also have a harder time getting the full scoop on that creator’s business, goals, and interest/experience with your product. After all, it’s the job of creator management to find the best opportunities for the most money for their client.

Here are a few things you can do to get the information you want:

  1. Insist on a “supervised” meeting with the creator (with representation present on the call).
  2. Ask the person you’re speaking with about previous brand activations and then go talk to people at those brands to learn about the creator’s performance.
  3. Attempt to get the manager to sell you on the idea of working with their client. It’s a bad look for them to lose a deal—especially if their client is excited—so make them work for it.

Whether you’re talking to talent or talent management, the next few steps are the same so let’s dive in.

Step 5: P3 – Sales & Negotiations

It’s time to talk turkey! Once you’re in P3, it’s all about making the sale and closing the deal. There are four short sections to cover here:

  1. Crafting Your Pitch
  2. Revenue Share
  3. Taking Creator Feedback
  4. Negotiating Tactics

This shouldn’t be overly complicated. You’ve done most of the work and laid the foundation you need to successfully work through sales and negotiations. If the deal doesn’t close at this point it’s because you can’t agree on price, plain and simple.

Taking Creator Feedback

At this point, we’ve done everything we could to gather information and craft an acceptable offer. Now it’s time to listen and learn.

The thing to keep in mind is that our pricing may work for us, but it isn’t real unless it works in the market. There were a few times we had to adjust our pricing and CPRU targets at Discord because the market wouldn’t bear what we wanted to pay.

For example: in Germany, almost all influencers of meaningful size are locked up in agencies. This made costs similar to the United States, despite being a much smaller market.

When you get information that you’re coming in too low (i.e. you struggle to close deals consistently), adjust accordingly. If you learn in P2 that market rate is consistently below where you set your targets, pull in your benchmarks to match. Remember, it’s not cool to overpay.

That said, don’t break your walk-away. If you can’t afford to pay market rate, don’t pay at all until things change.

Negotiating Tactics

I am no sales master. I have messed up many times and made mistakes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last five to seven years.

Here are a few hard-earned lessons you can use in your P3 negotiations:

  1. Never give anything without getting something in return
  2. Adjust your offer in real-time during P2 before you reach P3
  3. If they’re surprised by your offer (bad), you messed up in P2
  4. Be open-minded to playing with the numbers but rarely, if ever, break your benchmarks
  5. Always be willing to walk away

There are no emotions in sales; the deal makes sense or it doesn’t. This was my greatest weak point as a closer. If you’re new to this, like I was, I promise you will likely struggle with it too. This is why we build large P0 and P1 lists–if one deal doesn’t close, there are always more fish in the sea.

If you don’t trust yourself to be 100% impartial about a deal, fall back on the benchmarks as a default or use a colleague or your boss to check your thinking before you make an offer.

Step 6: P4 – Contracts, Terms, and Conditions

Contracts should be a breeze if you did P2 properly. Simply take what you discussed and put it in the contract. That’s it.

The only time you should get redlines is if you’re working with a large partner or an agency with a legal team who will fight over phrasing to ensure the contract is as favorable to the creator as possible. This is normal.

If you’re getting big questions or complaints about specific terms, deliverables, or details, that’s on you. As we discussed in the P2 section, it’s your job to explain how the contract works up front so there are no unpleasant surprises.

Contract Tips to Save Your Sanity

Getting contracts signed can be a slog. Here are a few ways to make the process easier:

  • Develop your boilerplate agreement and attachments before launching your program. Historically, I’ve used a standard main contract with an Exhibit A attached that outlined the particulars of each deal.
  • Either load the template into your signing/sending software and fill out the default fields or highlight the relevant areas to be completed in a Word document so you know exactly what needs to be completed before uploading.
  • Include tax forms (W-9 if individual; W-9BEN if company) and payment information forms together in the contract bundle when you send it so you don’t have to go chasing anyone down later.
  • If you are not the authorized signer for your company, then get agreement on a turn-around time (”SLA”) with the appropriate stakeholder so you don’t have contracts piling up, waiting to be signed.

Where Legal Teams Love to Redline

Your contract should be written to favor you within reason (no worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable rights to likeness and content, please). That being the case, you should expect any creator with a legal team to make a fuss about things.

Here are the most common areas I’ve seen redlines occur:

  • Indemnification and liability
  • Legal jurisdiction
  • Licensing terms
  • Basically anything related to “what happens if we go to court”

You must know your contract well enough to recognize when a change puts you in a compromising position. Contracts bore the hell out of me but I always make sure to know what my legal stance is.

Discuss with your legal representative ahead of time where you can easily make concessions and what constitutes a deal-breaker. When redlines occur, if you’re not confident you understand the language—ask.

Lawyers are expensive, but so are lawsuits.

Step 7: P5 – Execution

You did it! You closed an influencer deal. Take a second to do a fist pump or maybe spin around in your chair a couple times. Once the dizziness subsides, it’s time to face reality: you’re half done.

Here are the next steps you’ll have to complete:

  1. Onboarding: Provide your new partner with the resources and assistance they need to get started
  2. Deliverables: Prepare a spreadsheet to track all partners’ progress towards completing their agreed upon deliverables
  3. Account Management: Be ready to communicate results with your partner, provide support as needed, and to chase them down if they’re late
  4. Tracking and Reporting: Make sure you have a dashboard of some kind (it can be in a spreadsheet) to track performance
  5. Payment Processing: Make sure your finance department knows when and how payments are issued and recorded

I’ll go into more detail on each step below.


Once the ink is dry on the contract, it’s time to begin the work of account management. You will need to make sure your new partner has all the assets and information required to complete their deliverables, such as logos, messaging points, and so on. I recommend preparing an onboarding process for your new partner to get them going, including the following:

  • Either a completed brief or a solid list of example creatives they can draft off of
  • All necessary media assets (brand kit with logos and guidelines, images, etc.)
  • Product samples and training
  • Access to white-glove customer support if needed

At Discord, since we had our partners making servers for their community, we did a live server build together. I would hold their hand through server and channel creation, roles, bot integrations, and so on. Your product may not require such hand-holding but consider how you can add something like it in. The influencer onboarding experience is a great jump-off point for your relationship!

When I ran an influencer trial for the coffee company Fellow, we were promoting an insulated travel tumbler. Tumblers are not rocket science–pour hot or cold liquid in to keep it hot or cold. No further explanation needed. However, I made sure the creators at least read the product page on Fellow’s website, had access to internal product documentation that covers all features and functions of the product, and were given enough time to trial the product before making content with it.


You’re paying your partner to do work for you. Make sure you have a central location to track exactly what that work is and when you expect it to be delivered. Fill it in as the work completes to feed your dashboards, identify late partners, and make payment processing easier.

At Discord we used a simple spreadsheet that our account management, data, and finance stakeholders all had access to. Everyone knew how it worked and how to use it. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

Account Management

As I’ve said numerous times in this guide, relationships are important. Your partner will work hard for you if they feel incentivized and supported. In other words, partnerships work better when you like each other.

Reporting performance and progress towards bonuses (if using tiered incentives) is a key part of this. So in ensuring your partner is holding up their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

Prepare yourself to spend a lot of time chasing down deliverables. Some partners are very professional and deliver everything on time with a high level of quality. Some require consistent reminders and some help bringing the deliverables across the finish line.

In gaming, many of our partners were literal kids in their parents’ basement. You can imagine for yourself how that impacted my work, I’m sure.

Regardless, be patient and professional. Your contract should describe what happens if deliverables aren’t complete by the promised deadline in no uncertain terms. In Discord’s case, our partners would receive prorated payments and were ineligible for bonuses–even if they were on track to earn one–if deliverables were incomplete.

That’s usually enough of a threat to put the pressure on a person. Let the contract do the work.

Tracking and Reporting

Don’t over complicate your dashboard. You don’t need powerful business intelligence or interactive charting tools—I’ve run almost everything out of spreadsheets throughout my career.

At Discord, I was embarrassed how much our million-dollar marketing program relied on basic spreadsheets. Then I realized that’s how it should be. Build just enough tools to do the work and then go back to doing the work.

Some more tips:

  1. Ensure all stakeholders know where your dashboard is located, how to access it, and how to read it.
  2. Feature your One Big Number and your performance against it prominently in your dashboard
  3. Learn critical spreadsheets functions like VLOOKUP, INDEX MATCH, and SUMIFS/COUNTIFS to make your life way easier
  4. If it helps, draw your dashboard before you build it, make a list of the data it should contain, and where you’ll get it from
  5. Don’t make it any more complicated than it needs to be–seriously!

It took us at least a year to finally move our program from a spreadsheet to Chartio. The only reason we made the decision to do so was to more easily facilitate data refreshes and have access to more powerful charting/visualization tools.

Learn to love spreadsheets. They’re more than enough for most of the job.

Payment Processing

Rather than relying on invoices, we had an agreement with finance to manually approve payments ourselves when deliverables were complete. We would update finance on a weekly basis with who needed to be paid and what amounts via email. They could verify things in our deliverables tracker and had access to all contracts if they wanted to review the details.

Since I had already collected tax and payment information up front, finance was usually able to quickly and easily process payments without hassle. I highly recommend doing this–you will save everyone a lot of time and they’ll love you for it.

Every marketer knows a happy finance team is a happy life.

Scaling and Maintaining the Program (COMING SOON)

  • Incorporating tools and technology
  • Building processes, documentation, and SOP
  • Scaling the team
  • Going global


Influencer marketing is a game of relationships. The best partnerships are built on a real foundation of trust and respect. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to cultivate that kind of partnership. Go above and beyond for your partners to help them in ways that aren’t just tied to money–introduce them to other sponsors, send them gifts on important occasions, and shout them out on company socials for doing great work.

I will not lie to you—it’s hard work, but it adds up. I personally struggle with some areas more than others, and so will you. Stick to your guns and see it through until you know for sure whether influencers will work for your business.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy getting to know your new partners!