Advertisers choosing a new network partner have to take a lot on trust. Pretty much every network has a convincing pitch and a nice set of PowerPoint slides. Networks are in the business of being persuasive, so how does an advertiser dig beneath the surface to find out which networks are great and which to avoid?

Having run the Blue Book for the last five years, we get the scoop from a lot of merchants. Here’s what they tell us are the most revealing questions you should ask your next prospective network partner:

#1. How Much Money Do You Have?
This sounds rude but you really do need to get past your inhibitions and ask this question. Here’s why: networks are basically banks. They pay out lots of money to affiliates and publishers to buy traffic, and they often have to pay up-front in order to get high-quality traffic at volume. Then they send that traffic to various advertiser landing pages where it turns into sales or leads, but often the network won’t get paid for six to eight weeks. They have to float all the money they have paid for traffic for the entire two months – and let’s not forget that it is at risk because the advertiser may find a reason not pay up.

So, running a network takes a lot of cash, and the single biggest network-killer is lack of working capital. Before you partner with any network, make sure they show you that they are solvent and profitable – it’s important.

#2. Which Affiliate Forums Do You Interact With?
Let’s be honest, affiliate forums are a pain in the butt for most networks. 90% of publishers are newbies and don’t make any money, so forums are full of complaints. But at the same time, it is inevitable that in the course of normal business even a great network will do something to upset an experienced affiliate or two. How they handle that is a good sign of how they handle their business. Many network owners make a point of personally interacting with publishers of affiliate forums – those are the network partners you want to find as an advertiser.

#3. Can You Show Me A Mobile Sales Funnel That Is Working?
Mobile is critical and hopeless at the same time. It nearly always converts much worse than desktop, but at the same time it now represents over 50% of available traffic. So what is your prospective network partner doing about it? What do their best sales flows and conversion funnels look like? How are they going to use mobile in your own campaigns? Here’s the kicker: you’re not necessarily looking for the network that happens to have one great mobile campaign set up. You’re looking for a network who has imagination and understands how to leverage emotional appeals and content in order to convert mobile traffic. As much as anything, this will tell you if they can actually drive the results you seek.

#4. How Do You Keep Your Facebook Accounts Alive?
Facebook can be a nightmare to deal with as an advertiser, particularly if you are trying to send direct traffic to a product landing page. Lose focus on your relevance score for a day and you may find your entire Advertiser account shut down with no way to get a response from Facebook. It happens thousands of times day. So, how does your new prospective partner handle this? Facebook today plays too large a role in the online ecosystem to be ignored. Some networks have cracked the code, so ask to see what they are doing (and in fact mThinkDigital, our sister marketing agency, has a terrific Facebook compliance team – if you need help with Facebook, email me. I’ll connect you to the right person.)

#5. Which Advertisers Have You Lost In The Last Year?
This is a seemingly simple question, but one that opens a conversational door into what type of clients are best suited to the particular network concerned, what the problems were with the clients that left, and whether the network is on a growth path or not. It also invites the network to provide references at current advertisers to which you can hopefully speak.

Choosing a new network partner is one of the most important decision you can make as an advertiser. A network can make or break your affiliate program, which can often seriously affect your job prospects. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions – in my experience network owners are smart (and tough) cookies who also appreciate honesty. Give the good ones a chance to show you who they really are.