DatoCMS Partner Program - A Year in Review

A Year in the Partner Program: a Trap?!

Posted on May 6th, 2024 by Matteo Papadopoulos

It's been exactly a year since the new version of the Partner Program for agencies was launched. During this year, I've spoken with dozens of new agencies and provided existing partners with "first aid and/or guidance" on business and technical issues. I must admit, despite some repetitiveness, I still really enjoy this role; having run an agency for 15 years, I thought I knew quite a bit, but by engaging with all kinds of sizes and cultures, I learn something new every day. It's fantastic!

However, one thing still seems odd: the program sounds too good to be true, it sounds like a trap!

The Partner Program is not meant to add stress: agency work is tough enough on its own without another vendor imposing sales targets, obligations, improbable categorizations, limits, cashbacks, or similar gimmicks.

None of that here.

Instead, it is designed to be helpful and simple

  • No additional costs,

  • No reselling restrictions,

  • Generous discounts,

  • Customized plans,

  • Reduced entry-level plan,

  • Additional roles for better team management,

  • Free access to projects — with admin role,

  • Independence in managing public profiles and showcased projects,

  • 360-degree personalized support,

  • Fully-equipped test and demo environments, and

  • Co-marketing activities.

All of this for free.

In the silent stares of the people I interact with, I hear them screaming:

It can't be possible, it's a trap! Where's the catch?

I understand their skepticism, unfortunately 😞.

Unlike in poker, here there is always the option to "call the bluff without risking anything" — which makes the bait seem even more suspicious! 😅

Partner Program in Numbers

Beyond just words, let’s see if some numbers can help clarify these first twelve months and why we’re pleased with the outcomes:

  • 108 enrolled partners distributed across more than 45 countries,

  • 28 additional agencies and studios currently enrolling,

  • 77% of existing partners from the experimental era (2021-22) have transitioned their accounts to the new program,

  • 319 clients connected (on discounted plans),

  • 556 team members from agencies, and

  • 159 showcased and accessible projects.

Working with agencies is crucial for several reasons; contrary to what one might think, the financial return (which is certainly present) is the least interesting part. Agencies act as a multiplier, but the percentage of business volume compared to the MMR generated from self-service is not that significant.

Engaging with agencies, however, is an excellent way to stay connected, gather feedback, grasp subtle nuances, and address issues before they’re even noticed by end clients.

Agencies help build culture and have always been the word-of-mouth we’ve relied on. We talk to and assist many developers daily, and by doing so, we learn and thus improve the product for everyone.

Our approach is neither naïve nor a gimmick painted with 🦄 unicorns-and-rainbows 🌈; the relationship with the agencies is meant to be a mutual exchange of value where everyone benefits.

Who is the Partner Program for?

We've confirmed that most agencies don't want to be resellers: it can be frustrating to handle billing cycles, calculate overages, explain these to clients, front the costs, and multiply all this by the various interconnected services in a stack that certainly doesn't stop at just the CMS. Agencies prefer their clients to be independent when it comes to accounting and to focus instead on managing the project and its developments.

However, this isn't the only possible scenario: some clients prefer dealing with a single point of contact at an agency to make their lives easier. Also, there are agencies that are extremely efficient at launching dozens or even hundreds of projects through starter projects/templates. For them, reselling is an integral part of their business model.

The Partner Program caters to both situations: there’s always a team that wants more secure and controlled access to projects, and there’s always a need to optimize costs.

And what about size?

We have agencies with huge teams, as well as some talented freelancers. In between, there’s a whole range, all in all quite evenly distributed. Small to medium-sized agencies constitute the majority, primarily because they are more common and have transitioned to headless stacks earlier than larger, more change-averse organizations.

What we've learned

Simplifying Mandates

Agencies can request a mandate from their clients to manage their projects and activate the benefits offered by the program. In an ideal world, there's a clean and straightforward process where both parties exchange requests, notifications, and approvals.

In the real world, however, agencies often handle the entire setup on behalf of the client. While this workflow is supported, it can sometimes be cumbersome and involve too many clicks and switches. We are working on enhancements that will simplify the process for everyone. Yay!

In-depth Workshop

We release new features every two months or so, and it's reasonable to expect our partners to deeply understand the product. For a long time, we have been promising hands-on interactive sessions where our engineers can show agencies how these features were designed, how to use them, and in which cases they are most effective. Yet, we haven't launched this activity for two main reasons:

  1. Managing a potential audience of over 500 participants is enormously challenging.

  2. We wish to avoid passive webinars.

By opting for "small group" sessions, we would need to manage a high number of sessions, but our small team, which prides itself on efficiency, can't commit to such an undertaking. We are exploring various solutions, and we will start soon, although it's still not clear in what form!

Commercial Support

Agencies choose to use DatoCMS because the Developer Experience, User Experience, setup speed, performance, and support are crucial strengths for them.

However, the narrative is different for their prospects: the headless stack is often a new, complex world dominated by skepticism.

As a partner product, it's crucial for us to lend credibility and authority to our agencies, helping their clients trust their recommendations. To facilitate this, besides always being ready to provide demos and technical calls with prospects, we've developed several support tools:

  • Commercial Deck: a concise commercial presentation that describes the product, the stack, the difference from a monolithic approach, and the main distinctions from other market headless alternatives, all from an agency's perspective.

  • Sales Demo org: allows for two complete free demo projects with all enterprise features enabled. This tool is useful both for sales discussions and for learning features not available in standard plans.

  • Enterprise Organization Free Trial: a two-week, unlimited free trial to handle large data imports or performance testing.

  • Academy: a new section on our website that provides agencies with all possible materials, texts, and videos, to explain to their clients how to best use the CMS.

These tools not only improve our agency partners' ability to sell and demonstrate the product but also empower them to effectively communicate the benefits of using our CMS to their clients.

Newsletter for Agencies

Previously, we blended product updates with information about our partner. Over the past few months, we've revamped the structure of our communications and launched a new channel exclusively for our partner agencies.

Communications for agencies will now be channeled through this newsletter, to which owners, project managers, and developers can subscribe. Expect no spam or marketing promotions, just crucial updates, links to workshops, and news about the partnership program. See you there!

Co-Marketing Activities

The arrival of Alessio and Ronak has not only increased the DatoCMS team size by 30% but also established a fully dedicated product marketing team!

Our goal is to foster a win-win scenario where we can enhance the visibility of our partner agencies' brands (thus amplifying their authority) and demonstrate the impressive digital products that can be developed with our product. Everyone's happy.

For years, we've had a partner section where agencies can independently manage their profiles and the projects they want to showcase. Merging these contents with our marketing team is the next step! We are experimenting with a series of posts that will detail some of our partner agencies' projects, featuring interviews, insights, and technological deep dives.

There's also the ongoing opportunity to turn these projects into one of our "success stories," thereby giving greater visibility to both the project and the agency.

However, the best results often come when our marketing team and that of our partner meet to brainstorm new, brilliant ideas. I'm just as excited to see what fantastic projects will pop up! 🍿

In Conclusion

After a year, we can certainly say that we are more than just satisfied with how things have gone.

The program is beneficial for agencies of various sizes and with different business models.

It is advantageous for end clients to work with a partner agency to secure better terms, avoid paying for developer seats, and have greater security assurances regarding who has access to their projects — if not applied yet, convince your digital agency!

Partners have a beard buddy (🙋🏻‍♂️) available for quick, personalized, and extremely human support.

Come on, fall into the trap, you'll like it here! There's no trick, no deception! Seeing is believing!

I want to call your bluff!