Success through the Magento Partner Program

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.

Magento Trusted ExtensionWhat prompted this article was an email from Phil Robinson at Magento, inviting us to be part of the Magento Trusted extension program for our excellent Magento/Wordpress Integration Extension. Finally, I thought, validation of Magento extension quality and the overall improvement of Magento connect – unfortunately I was misunderstood. My interest was soon followed up with an email outlining all the fees involved to be an Industry Partner.

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 Partners

    A 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 Partners

    A 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 Partners

    A 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.


Magento Partner Pricing

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 Magento

The 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.


Magento Certified Developer

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/


  • http://twitter.com/bobbyshaw Tom Robertshaw

    Pretty sure that Magento now require all partners on Silver plan and up to have developers that are certified.  Read it somewhere before, I can’t remember where but managed to find a mention of it here: http://www.magentocommerce.com/images/uploads/0925_PDFPartnerBlog_R2.pdf

  • sonassi

    @twitter-19939862:disqus I would hope so. But the lack of information out there to prove this kind of highlights my point. If development agencies aren’t fully versed as to what the (technical) differences are between partner levels – how would and end-user (individual/business) know? How would they know a Silver partner has trained staff vs. a Bronze partner?

    Many of our partners have taken Magento developer training, and we are now requiring all Gold and Silver Solution Partners to have
    Magento certified developers on staff.

    Although we have training requirements for all partner companies, we recommend that when you choose a partner, you ask whether they have employees who are certified and/or have taken Magento training.

    The ambiguity of how many members of staff, whether in-house or outsourced, again stresses the lack of public clarity of the partnership levels – and without clarity or distinction, its worthless.

  • http://twitter.com/blueacorn Blue Acorn

    Benjamin – you make some certainly valid points, and we (Blue Acorn) were a part of it all from the beginning as well.  We actually were one of the original partners, then did NOT renew (for many of the same reasons you mention), then did come back on board as a silver and eventually gold partner.  I’ve had this very conversation both with myself and others holding a similar view – and I can say that the partnership program DOES provide value to the end client.  It’s a much longer conversation than I have time to type (if you’re at Imagine we can discuss), but I’ve seen firsthand all sides of this debate and when you consider all of the factors of why it is in place, you can have an appreciation for it I am certain.  I’m not just drinking the Kool-Aid here either.  Is it perfect?  No.  Do some partners suck?  Yes.  Are some non-partners good at Magento?  Yes.  These are all common challenges with any partner program – but the positives far outweigh the negatives.  And, Magento has done a lot to improve the quality of the program and the partners involved over the last year.

    I can appreciate your stance, and I know of others that feel the same way.  As one of the only Gold Partners that “grew up” through the ranks we’re an advocate for the community (moreso than most other Gold Partners) as that is our roots.  But I am confidant that the partner program, while not perfect, provides the “Magento ecosystem” a great deal of value, and that Magento has taken the appropriate strides to continue to improve it.

  • http://colin.mollenhour.com Colin Mollenhour

    You can’t knock Varien for wanting to profit from their own software. To attract more retailers they have to keep prices low, and they turn would-be entreprenurial developers into Magento salesmen AND paying customers! Pretty brilliant if you ask me. On the flip-side, perhaps this helps keep the market price of developer hours high since if you’re a Partner you’re going to charge more (to offset the outrageous fees) and if you aren’t then you have fewer competitors competing with your same cost structure. In the end I think there will always be enough clients out there that realize the Partner program isn’t the end-all be-all of developer measures and non-Partner developers such as yourself who are competent can continue doing what they’ve always been doing as a non-Partner if they so choose.

    I am not a Magento partner and all of the developers I work with are not Magento partners. We did try working with a Magento Silver Partner once and the quality of work to cost ratio was horrendous (though we aren’t a typical client). I’m sure there are good Partners and bad, just like there are good non-Partners and bad. Requiring Partners’ developers to be certified is probably a step in the right direction to improving the situation but there is absolutely no way to enforce this. Also, do Partner’s have to pay the same test fees as non-Partners? If so, all I can say is.. ouch.

  • http://twitter.com/WebShopApps Karen Baker
  • Erik Hansen

    I have had a number of conversations with the Magento Partnership team about the Magento Partnership program.  Scott Dahlgren and his team have made many improvements to the program over the past several years with a focus on promoting quality partners and filtering out the cruft.  One of the things that will be going into effect with the program soon is a requirement for Gold and Silver partners to have a certain number of Certified Developers (I believe 2 and 4, respectively).

    It is true that being a Magento Solution Partner does not necessarily mean that you are going to be an excellent eCommerce firm to work with – we have come across many Gold and Silver partners that have consistently failed Magento projects.  However, I believe that the success rate of projects with a Solution Partner vs a firm who claims to be Magento experts is much higher.  It is true that there are many firms who can execute projects who are not partners (Inchoo being an example), but I believe that is the exception, not the rule.  Because Magento is an open platform, ANY firm can claim to be experts at the platform, which is why it is important for there to be ways to distinguish between quality and cruft.  The Magento Partnership program is one of those ways, as is the Certified Developers program.

    With an ecosystem like Magento’s, I think it is important to not just focus on partnering with Magento through one medium (such as ONLY focusing on being a Solutions Partner).  We (as have others such as WSA and Blue Acorn) have connected with Magento at every opportunity, including their Partnership Program, Developer Certification, and the Imagine Sponsorship.

    Also, to the point about paying to be a partner: If a company is big enough to be a Bronze, Silver, or Gold partner, the partnership fee that they charge (which is actually higher than you stated) is a very nominal fee considering the benefit of being a part of the program. It makes sense to me that a certain financial barrier to entry would be charged to be a part of the program – that ensures that only firms who are seriously interested in the program apply.

  • http://twitter.com/MagentoCarly Carly Rachman

    Benjamin – Thank you for your insight and feedback into the Partner program.  My name is Carly Rachman and I manage the Magento Industry Partner program (was working for Phil Robinson for the past year).  While your argument is understandable, there are a few important points to clarify:
    1. There are two separate programs: one for Solution Partners (Blue Acorn, Classy Llama, etc.) and one for Industry Partners (Sweet Tooth, 500 friends, Avalara, etc.).  Each program has a different plan about how to be successful through the Magento platform – you do not make the distinction here and they are not the same program.  Each program does require fees, which I will address below.  
    2. The Industry Partner program (program Phil Robinson sent you) is a marketing plan for highlighting your extension in our ecosystem.  It is more of a ‘pay to play’ model at this point as it’s the first year we have started this program.  It is a completely optional program and only there for your benefit if you want Magento to invest in the marketing and promotion of your extension.  The Solution Partner program is more of an ‘earn your stripes’ program and partners gain level status based on their expertise within Magento Enterprise.
    3. Trusted Extension & Certification: Magento recognizes the need for certified developers within Magento Connect.  We have heavily invested in these programs in order enable the merchants with ‘trusted’ extensions and enable the valuable developers in Connect to get the stamp of approval.  I expect we’ll see a shift in 2012 as this program continues to expand.  Starting with the Silver level, Solution partners are required have at least two certified developers, details found here: http://info.magento.com/rs/magentocommerce/images/solution_partner_program_outline.pdf. 

    Since I manage the Industry side, I’m happy to break down our fees and why they are put in place to hopefully provide some clarification:  
    Magento has made a significant investment in the Industry Partner team this year and we’ve added several new points of contact such as myself that are closely aligned with partners to help drive revenue.  Having partner fees let us know which partners are serious about growing their Magento business with us.  Since we agree to a variety of marketing promotions, technical resources to help drive your business, it is designed so that your business drives greater revenue than the fee requested.  Most of these activities take place within the first 30-60 days of our partnership and we feel that we cannot make the investment without this upfront fee.  We recognize that there are many valuable developers (such as yourself) within the Magento platform and we consider all to be partners – this is a way to get more leverage should you choose to join the program. Again, this is an optional program and completely understandable if it is not a fit for your business.

    We are coming into year two of the Magento Industry Partner program and as we band forces with the X.commerce Business Development team, we are continually evolving and looking to improve.  Let it be known to the community that our continued focus and end goal is to enable merchants and developers within the platform – not just to increase the numbers, but to have you all make more money. Since joining Magento a year ago, I am impressed daily by the game changers that work for, with, develop, run a business, etc. on Magento.  It’s very inspiring to me and from all of us at Magento, thank you for your continued support. 

  • sonassi

    Hi Carly,

    Let’s arrange that call, we’re open between 10am and 6pm GMT. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • sonassi

    Thanks for the detailed reply @twitter-17316707:disqus . After reading your comments and others, I managed to initiate a call with Magento to get some questions answered. As a result, I’ve rewritten some of the content above to balance out the perspective and improve its accuracy somewhat.

    At this stage, I’m still waiting on a follow up call from Magento to discuss the benefits of the program; but I would love to take you up on your offer to see what you have gained from the program. No-one from Sonassi is attending Imagine unfortunately, but if you are happy to discuss via email – that would be great.

  • sonassi

    Thanks for the response @google-b3ddbcdefacb4a6b3d66f485bf5dd3ec:disqus  – we are considering entering under the Bronze partnership, then will see how our opportunities change. But getting our developers Magento certified is first on our list and should be complete by the end of the month.

    I’ve amended some of the article to relfect your points, thanks again.

  • Neal Cabage

    I’m a little confused by Magento / X.commerce approach to developers and partners.  On one hand I see this effort to position Magento as “high end” and hold up premiere partners who only build EE solutions at $100k and up.  And yet simultaneously if I go to X.com, I see a VERY prominently featured developer directory which seems to be, ironically, outsourced to oDesk, and nearly all the developers there are charging $15-20 per hour.

    So which one is it?  Is the future of Magento high end or not?   And aren’t these mixed signals going to make it real difficult for Magento firms to keep charging $150+ per hour?

  • http://todayr.com/ Damu

    wow! “You can promote us but have to pay $$$ as well and commit to sell our software”. Isn’t that too much!!!