On Measuring Open Source Partner Effectiveness

Last week Matt Asay posted a list of ways to muscle integration partners into pulling through licenses of Alfresco's Enterprise Edition ($$$) versus just delivering solutions on the Community Edition.

Kris Buytaert doesn't care much for Matt's approach. For Kris, Matt's rules don't accurately capture the full spectrum of the ways a partner contributes to an open source vendor's success. He thinks vendors should consider contributions back to the project, saying:

No Matt, this time your idea stinks,

This way skilled consultants that care about open source and contribute to the community are being punished for doing so, whereas they should actually be getting business back from the vendors, so they can earn money and contribute more on your product you force them to waste more time on the sales side. While the people that just move boxes, don't care if its an open source application or a proprietary package gain more. For them its just business as usual .. selling boxen.

It just doesn't make sense

This concept is just bad for opensource in general, motivated people will stop contributing to products they implement, as they see that their efforts aren't appreciated by the vendors.

There is a clear tension here, and I think it arises out of a lack of clarity regarding what to measure. Kris is uncomfortable with Matt's rubric. It's perfectly reasonable for an open source vendor to favor partners who are the most loyal and make the most contributions to the vendors success and vice versa. But how do you measure loyalty and contributions? The volume of revenue from subscription pull through is one way, but it's only one of many.

If a partner does a project with the software that just blows people away, is broadly written up in the blogosphere and trade press, and substantially raises awareness of the project, should that be taken into account? If the partner makes a groundbreaking contribution to the project, something that really propels the technology forward in a way that will open up new selling opportunities, should that earn them the right to a few leads? If a partner has a guy on staff who is just this amazing heat seeking missile inside the bug queue, taking on the gnarliest issues and coming out with sensible fixes every time, should that count for something?

At Acquia, we're in the process of designing our partner program right now. It's clear to us that selling with and through Drupal solution providers is going to be an important element of our business. Right now we're still gathering information, talking to prospective partners, and iterating on various approaches. So the topics like the one discussed above are very interesting and relevant.

Despite the apparent similarities, we're different from many open source companies like Alfresco and SugarCRM and MySQL in some fundamental ways. Drupal pre-dates Acquia. We didn't invent it, nor do we control it (or want to control it). We have a huge pre-existing community pre-populated with a global network of solution providers who are all potential partners. Most of these companies have built strong businesses without Acquia up to this point, so our challenge is coming up with a value proposition for helping them expand and accelerate their business by choosing to sell our subscriptions as part of their solutions. We have neither the inclination nor the ability to use heavy-handed tactics. We'll be working through persuasion and aligned interests, not compulsion.

Even though our situation is unique, we still need to come up with a scalable and effective means of recruiting, enabling, and supporting partners who share our vision and interests. Given that our time and resources are limited, we're going to have to prioritize our partnering relationships and activities in order to maximize total return (realizing thatmoney is only one element of return). That means we'll need reliable ways of measuring partner effectiveness. So how should we go about that? I'd love your feedback.

UPDATE: Kris has posted a follow-up with some more specific suggestions.

Comments

Posted on by Matt Asay (not verified).

It is unique, but not as unique as you might think. The same issues that we face, you will face, just as Red Hat, JBoss, MySQL, etc. have all faced (and which were communities before they were companies).

My post was taken *way* out of context by Kris and others, who thought I was talking about "sticks" rather than "carrots." I wasn't. I was just talking about ways to steer financial carrots to those who steer financial carrots our way. There was absolutely no mention made of the code carrots that many non-partners provide, and for which I'm very grateful. I simply wasn't talking about that aspect.

You come from a large, successful, proprietary software company (Adobe). You know that business isn't as easy as giving everything away and hoping people pay for recognized value.

As vendors we need to have an open, productive discussion about best practices. I try to do that on my blog, and appreciate your measured response. I didn't appreciate the screams of protest that came back with little substance beyond anger and ire. First, seek to understand. Then criticize. You have done that. I wish others would, too. It would make open source more of a community, and less of an exclusive club that eats its own young.