Climbing to the top of the VAR market

It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle resellers must grapple with daily — if there is no product going out the door, then there’s no reason to learn new skills. But if resellers don’t continuously develop their skills, there won’t be new products to sell.

What’s a reseller to do? To survive

the prolonged economic downturn, companies have not only purged their staff, they are slashing budgets in all areas, particularly discretionary spending, which is where training is most often slated.

“”The amount of training that’s being done right now has fallen dramatically over what we were seeing just a couple of years ago,”” said Julie Kaufman, research manager for skills development at IDC Canada “”On average, IT companies in Ontario are only providing two days of training for the year for their people. And that’s not even one course.””

While the lack of training could lead to the loss of employees and the downfall of the company, according to Kaufman, it could also hinder the IT sector’s economic recovery.

“”With new technologies coming out, not training could be a really big barrier to the recovery of the industry. Buy all the software you want — all the latest versions — and start wanting to make larger investments into things that have been put off since early 2001. But the skill sets aren’t going to be out there because no one’s training,”” she said.

Continuously training resellers and IT personnel, even in down times, can put a company at a competitive advantage when the industry does turn around. And if companies think those unspent training dollars are forever saved, they are wrong.

“”They’re going to have to react quickly to their customers’ demands and as a result may end up spending those training dollars later, which may actually put them behind their competitors,”” said Al Nasturzio, director of Canadian sales for Global Knowledge. “”If their competitors have their tech people ready to go when the market does pick up, those ready to go will be at an advantage.””

“”As soon as we do start to see some recovery, [training is] going to be very important and maybe we don’t even want to wait for recovery,”” said Kaufman. “”We should be starting to do more training on some of these solutions so when spending does start happening, we won’t be held back [and tell customers] I can sell it to you, but I can’t help you implement it.””

According to an Information Technology Association of Canada study released earlier this year, many Ontario-based companies are still having difficulties finding employees with specific skill sets.

“”That could be [an] opportunity for resellers to go in and not only provide bodies to help out, but to provide software in order to make up for some of those gaps,”” said Kaufman.

While a significant portion of the reseller channel has opted to not forge ahead with pre-emptive training, some resellers continue spending. And some companies’ training budgets are actually increasing.

“”Job descriptions should always have a component of training to them because I personally believe, outside of my 3Com belief, that education is a life-long quest and that it never really stops,”” said Nick Tidd, managing director of 3Com Canada. “”If training is not part of your employee development plan or your employee curriculum, you’re going to lose staff. [Training is] one way to demonstrate your commitment to investing in staff [and] continues to build upon their skill sets. If you don’t do that, you’re going to have much deeper business issues.””

Although technical know-how is the primary component of training, todays resellers must also be savvy about their clients’ business and return on investment requirements — something partners didn’t need to know about when they were pitching products to IT managers. Now the buy-in is at the executive level.

“”It’s coming down from the enterprise-size customer into the mid-market where they are demanding more accountability,”” said Paul Edwards, director of strategic alliances and partnering for IDC Canada. Resellers now have to be able to sell into the executive level and “”that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do because it’s a whole new way of presenting a solution . . . There are a lot of partners that may not be prepared for that and I think it’s in the vendor’s best interest to either create separate training in these areas or incorporate this type of training into their certification.””

To certify or not to certify

Part of 3Com’s training philosophy includes not requiring its partners to be certified. “”Based on our business relationship, if they are our go-to mechanism in the market, we need to make sure they’re profitable and burdening them down with onerous certifications is not going to lead to profitable relationships. That’s why we’ve not forced it upon them at all [and] we don’t have any plans to do that,”” said Tidd.

Like 3Com, Microsoft Business Solutions does not have certification requirements — at least for all of its product lines. But that’s slowly changing.

“”We’re definitely moving more towards a certification required business model,”” said Garth Dean, general manager, Microsoft Business Solutions Canada. “”We believe it’s very important for our customers that the partners have the appropriate training and certifications.””

Navision, which was purchased by Microsoft this past summer, is one of the divisions which does require its resellers to hold certain certification.

“”What happens in other channels that don’t have minimum certification requirements is the resellers are allowed to become a little lax in their training,”” said Glen Richardson, vice-president of operations for Axentia, a Navision reseller. “”When the market picks up, they end up selling solutions they’re not properly trained for yet and that just leads to less satisfied clients.””

But do end users really care if their resellers have the most current certifications? “”Some end users are very astute in those areas and state even within an RFP [Request for Proposal] for business that they want this specific certification of the partner. Then others may not, or they may not be aware [certification exists]. They just want to get the partner who can do the job,”” said Edwards.

Any certification process consists of partners understanding the solution, its functionality within the end users’ organization and the implementation methodology, said Dean, so there has to be some consistency in the delivery of those elements for a product to be successful and to achieve customer satisfaction. “”Anybody who’s distributing a product that doesn’t have some control over the method by which it’s distributed, sold and implemented, is really at risk of customer dissatisfaction and at the end of the day, that’s ultimately what supports the sale of your products.””

However, being certified does not necessarily denote skill level. “”There are partners that don’t have their certifications, but have the skill level. But most partners that do have the skill level want to get the certification because for them, it’s like a badge of honour,”” said Edwards.

While some end users are impartial to certifications, according to Richardson, they build confidence among fellow resellers. “”The fact that we’re a certified channel, for me, it builds faith in the other partners and in the channel when we’re dealing with the other Navision resellers.””

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