First, I'll introduce who we are, we are Sonassi - a web development company that for almost 4 years has specialised in developing Magento stores, providing the fastest, most reliable and stable Magento hosting in Europe and providing Magento consultative services. Amongst our peers; Blue Acorn, Inchoo, Classy Llama, Sumo Heavy and a few more; we are one of a few companies in the world who can claim to be Magento experts.
We have watched the Magento community has grow rapidly over the past 4 years, with new companies adopting the platform by the day; as a very early adopter, this is great to see.
This got me thinking, as we're not currently an "official" partner, what are the real benefits of the Magento partnership program, specifically the Solution Partner Program. What does it offer the consumer, what does it offer the agency?.
Our community grew Magento
During the early stages of Magento's birth; documentation, guides, blogs and other information were completely non-existant; and it required heavy participation from development firms (like ourselves) to be the ones to write guides, books, articles & blog posts and even help others on the Magento Commerce forums. These early community members put in place the groundwork for most of the development of extensions and stores you see today.
But back in early 2008, those who frequently contributed weren't really given any type of formal accreditation or reward. But if you were willing to pay a little - you could get a little badge under your forum avatar - "Community Partner".
So what partnership level means what then
Buried in a PDF, the Finding Magento Solution Partners documentation classifies the different levels as follows, (which would make Sonassi a Gold partner).
Gold PartnersA Gold partner may best suit your needs if:
• your business is medium to large in size • you have a site that requires a lot of customization, extensive back-end integration with existing operations, or implementation of multiple third-party applications
Silver PartnersA Silver partner may best suit your needs if:
• your business is small to mid-size • you are either entering the world of eCommerce for the first time or need to upgrade an existing online store • your site will require some customization and back-end integration or a moderate number of third-party application integrations
Bronze PartnersA Bronze partner may be the best choice if:
• you are a small business or new to eCommerce • you require relatively minor customization or third-party software integration
Many Bronze partners are new to Enterprise implementations or just getting started in our program. They have eCommerce expertise, and many have done development work with the Magento open-source code.
The dawn of the partner age
Later, in 2008, the partner age begun and the Magento Partner Pricing (2008) was released. You could now be part of the Magento elite and partner your way to success, with a nominal annual fee, varying from a fractional $800 to $3,800.
The strategy of the partner program has been very similar in structure since 2008; more revenue for Magento - either through annual membership, partner revenue commitment - commission through sales of support/product licenses (Pro/EE).
In 2012, membership pricing has increased slightly, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 + revenue commitment.
Our understanding is that Magento partner program consists of best-of-breed agencies to showcase Magento and how good it really is, which to some degree it does.
Are Magento partners, Magento experts?
Perhaps. The requirements to be a Silver solution partner (and above) would imply that. But the truth is, we cannot answer this accurately - and that is our concern.
The Bronze level is the gateway to the program, allowing agencies to enter the ecosystem; there is no barrier to entry in terms of qualification or ability. Bronze partners are those considered to develop primarily on CE with a future interest in EE. Bear in mind that unless you frequently develop EE stores, anything above Bronze isn't for you.
Next up are your Silver partners, which admittedly is slightly harder to obtain. You are required to have a minimum of 2 Magento certified developers, but more importantly, you are expected to be using EE, taking on a minimum of 3 new EE clients every year (to satisfy the minimum annual commitment revenue of $50,000).
Gold level is much the same, a requirement for 4 certified developers and minimum commitment revenue of $100,000.
After speaking to Magento, one simply can't choose to be a Silver/Gold partner, but rather are subject to approval by Magento; both for financial targets but also their general attitude towards EE and Magento as a whole. They have to earn it.
Bigger is better, or is it?
The partner program exists as a way to prove to the world that you are a capable Magento agency, but Magento appear to have neglected to differentiate the levels to the end user. Before researching this article, even I didn't know the differences between entering at Bronze level and earning your Silver level - you can't just pay for it, but have to instead prove your dedication and worth to Magento.
But does the SME know the difference between what each level means? Do they know a Bronze partner is likely unfamiliar with Magento but a Silver partner is not just familiar, but has earned the development certification to prove their knowledge of Magento. This is a real weakness of the program, simply because Magento have neglected to properly explain the differences to end users.
So those boutique Magento agencies looking to take the next step might consider entering the partner program, starting at the lowest level, a Bronze partner. But we wonder if this gives them any edge over a non-partner. After all, Magento's definition of a Bronze partner (below), is that of a company likely unfamiliar with Magento and usually only familiar of working with small businesses.
This shows a gap, wherein an agency can be very proficient with Magento, but either continues to develop on CE or doesn't have the volume of EE clients to satisfy the minimum commitment revenue. This would position them between Bronze and Silver, perhaps a new partner level should be added to satisfy this, Bronze+.
We want to join, but could it hurt us
Sonassi has wanted to join the partner program since day 1, but we would aim to immediately be a Gold partner (who wouldn't), paying the membership fee of $10,000 each year isn't an issue, but paying a revenue commitment and having to promote the commission-based Enterprise Edition over Community Edition could be. We don't like the idea of having to launch a minimum of 8 EE stores per year, how could we give each project the care and attention it needs, if we are focused on hitting targets.
It would likely be that we would only qualify to be a Bronze partner (simply due to the fact only 10% of the stores we develop use EE) - which we fear would cost us more than it would gain. We would be grouped with companies, who by Magento's definition, are new to Magento. Our biggest fear would be losing a potential lead just because of our lesser partner status before we even get the chance to bid.
For development, we look to target medium sized business; for hosting, we look to target enterprise sized business. But by only being a Bronze partner - we've immediately branded ourselves less capable than a Silver/Gold partner - even though we know we have a far better understanding of Magento than a lot of Silver and Gold partners.
The partner program currently devalues MagentoThe ambiguity and lack of distinction between levels does the program and its partners an injustice. It isn't clear how hard a Gold partner has had to work to earn their stripes, similarly, how easy it has been for a Bronze partner to enter.
It also needs an intermediary step for those between Silver and Bronze. Agencies who are Magento experts, but primarily use CE - Bronze+.
For anyone looking at the program for the first time, it would be easy to misunderstand what it means to be a partner (even I am guilty of this).
- It is revenue based, pay more, rank higher
- There is no formal distinction between what each level means to an end-user
- An agency, can still be a partner without even having worked with Magento
So, are Sonassi going to partner up?
We want to, but at the moment find ourselves with a lot of questions. We believe CE is not only a viable option for production Magento stores, but an enterprise option in itself. Many of our clients would not benefit from the minor benefits of EE and unless there was a specific feature in EE that was not cost-effective for us to build ourselves - I would certainly struggle (morally and ethically) to tell a client that they needed EE, just so that could hit our revenue commitment.
Will we see success with the partner program? Time will tell.
But there may be hope yet, Magento Certified Developers
So it begs the question, how do you know if a Magento agency is as good as they say they are? Thankfully, there is now a recognised accreditation that developers can obtain. Not just in exchange for money, but a formal examination that can both be passed and failed.
Most agencies, that truly specialise in Magento, are making sure that all their developers have the appropriate training to obtain this valuable qualification - we're in the middle of it at the moment, with the goal of 100% of our development workforce being Magento Certified.
Developer Certification is what any business/individual looking for a Magento agency should use to judge their competency - in addition to any other standard vetting procedures.
But what about judging Magento Hosting
In the absence of any formal Magento hosting accreditation, ignoring the value-less partner program, MageBenchmark stands to be the original and most accurate Magento performance benchmarking and comparison website, find it at http://magebenchmark.sonassi.com/