being an Acquia partner

Building up a key partner relationship with Acquia had been on my to do list at miggle for a long time. We've been partners in name since about 2012, but it wasn't until the end of 2014 that we really started to get some traction.

what might partnership do for biz dev?

As I saw it, a number of the more successful Drupal agencies that I looked up to had established partnerships with Acquia, so there definitely seem to be a value in us doing the same. By stealth, we had built up quite a bit of experience in their cloud platform because we worked on a number of Drupal sites that were already hosted there.

Primarily what I wanted to get from the partnership was leads. For that to work, I needed to be referring business to them as well. We sent a couple of deals their way, but didn't really feel like we got much back in return. When the certified developer program came out in 2014, we decided to take a different approach and we started down the path of getting our team certified. This definitely got us on their radar. Part of that went hand-in-hand with Acquia trying to sell us an enterprise cloud subscription, on the basis that we might use that to host all of our existing clients. During those discussions, a few co-marketing opportunities started to come our way and we got a decent referral for a bit of business that we were able to successfully close. Since we signed up for that cloud deal? We haven't had much in the way of leads, but then we haven't referred much business their way, either. So we need to work on that. I think the onus would be on us to be more proactive and to work harder to get more from the association. But we are a small agency and we have a limited amount of bandwidth for business development. Solution-wise, we can only get so much out the door. That said, now the relationship is more established, when I'm ready to ramp that up I know who my go to people are.

If I were to look at my investment into my cloud subscription and chart the return I have got from it, I would say that we are about break even when measured against the value of the exposure we've got, the work referred to us, and the fees we've generated from reselling the hosting.

the value of the product and service

While my whole rationale around aiming to build up the relationship with Acquia was purely driven from a biz dev, marketing and distribution standpoint, I hadn’t taken fully into account that what we were buying was actually a great product and service. Of course Acquia isn’t alone in selling a white gloves hosting and deployment workflow solution, and there are certainly cheaper options available elsewhere. But the advantage we had with Acquia was that we were already familiar with their cloud product, and when we tried out one of the other obvious providers that we could've gone with, their level of customer service was really pretty poor in comparison. You get what you pay for.

Where we got an unexpected benefit was when we had a rough couple of quarters. We had to make a couple of layoffs and a key member of staff, who was really our go to devop/sys admin person, had pretty much hit burn out and decided it was time to move on. That's when we really started appreciating the benefits of having a white gloves solution. By cutting our dependency on infrastructure we'd configured ourselves, developers could focus on being developers and not have to double up as 'have a go hero’ part-time sys admins. And because scaling back on full time headcount didn't mean that we had any less work to do, when we had to start drafting in contract resources, getting them on boarded with Acquia was a much easier process than how we’d done things previously.  We still manage some of our own environments and we have clients with other white glove services; the Acquia solution is never going to be a 100% fit. But the key thing is currently I'm looking at it as more than just expensive hosting and less as just a Biz Dev investment on which I'm expecting a return, but as something in which the costs and the product, service and support are a better spend of that part of my budget than working out how I cover devops skills through headcount. I can scale the former more effectively than the latter.

my recommendation is...

Based on my experiences working with Acquia, I’d encourage owners of other small Drupal agencies to really think seriously about what they could do for them. The investment is significant, but it does add value if you apply it in the right way. The response from our customers has been really positive, and some of them have been blown away by how quick their sites are now. We have one customer who regularly has over 300 concurrent users on their site, and internally, we don’t have the sys admin bandwidth or skill to manage that. And, I think the certified programme - which is a much needed benchmark in evaluating developers in the 'come one come all' world that open source embraces - shows that Acquia is starting to realise that it makes sense to partner with agencies who can demonstrate they have the skills to provide solutions even if they don’t have the bandwidth to shift too much hosting. Finally, in the last 18 months, they’ve certainly improved the partner relations side of their business by building out that team.

what are the opportunities for improvement?

Of course it's not a perfect world. While my end business customers haven't suffered any significant issues, there are a few pain points, not all of which have been resolved to my satisfaction. But like all things it's a case of picking your battles and working out where best to apply your leverage. I think there's a bit of an inevitable cultural and market imbalance. On the one hand we have this big, pre-IPO business that is tenacious and extremely hard-working, with a very Americanized work culture, and on the other hand a small UK business based in a part of the country where work life balance is everything. My world feels more open source, so when I hear new Acquia staff talk about the difference between Acquia hosted Drupal and Drupal being like the difference between Salesforce and Salesforce Community that worries me a bit. Acquia also has a lot of very cool products like Lift and Site Factory, but there is very little opportunity for partners to be able to trial those. I also have reservations about how those products will ever be truly affordable to a lot of UK businesses given their audience size. The pricing models do seem to be very much based around the return on investment that US size audiences would deliver to the businesses that invested in them. 

in summary

Bottom line is: Rome wasn't built in a day. Nothing happens without a lot of hard work, and valued partnerships really allow people to make great strides if everybody is clear on what each other are trying to achieve. I think the fact that Acquia are prepared to reference this from their website shows that they listen, and so I'm confident that ultimately we are working with great people who are building and supporting fantastic products and services. 

If you want to take back control of your web sites and applications then get in touch with miggle to see how we can deliver operational freedom for you in Drupal.