Educated VARs keep Wheels in Motion

IT training and certification is experiencing another year of negative growth, and this downward spiral is expected to continue for at least another year. For VARs that means another year of no training or, whatever training they do partake in, will only be done in order to remain a certified partner

with their vendors. While this tactic may be sufficient to meet current business needs, how are these VARs going to fare when the economy rebounds?

“”I think for an organization, whether it be a manufacturer or business partner that doesn’t keep pace with skills that are being demanded by customers, I think [they’ll] be left by the wayside,”” said Gary Isaacs, director, partners, for IBM Canada Ltd.

Not only is being left behind in a rebounding economy a possibility, but another issue resellers need to think about is market differentiation. With the multitude of resellers for end users to choose from, customers are starting to realize they have choices, and are becoming more demanding in what they want from a partner.

“”[Training and certification] makes a difference to [resellers] when they’re responding to RFPs [request for proposals] — they can put on their RFP their engineers are not only [installing] the solution, but have trained on this solution,”” said Gavin Fick, national channel sales manager for 3Com Canada of Mississuaga, Ont.

VARs also have to compete with inside technical staff, who are being trained on the products in a bid to manage troubleshooting, which then takes away from the reseller’s lucrative services offerings.

While resellers are doing small amounts of training, the desire to move up the certification ladder has all but disappeared. “”We’ve got a fairly mature market, so what we’re seeing is that certification, from a marketing standpoint, has become less significant,”” said Wendy Callaghan, senior director, Trios Training Centres Ltd. “”A lot of the organizations, especially among the resellers, use certification as a benchmark [for their] human capital.””

Resellers may also want to consider the results of IDC USA’s 2002 study Relationship between Certification and Partner Programs when it comes to deciding on whether or not they want to invest in further certification. According to the study, 70 per cent of business partners surveyed worldwide said they believed their certified staff were more productive than their non-certified staff.

“”[Those surveyed perceived there was an] increased effectiveness of implementation of new technologies, improved level of support offered, and increased up-times [because] they understand the systems better and can get things running faster than the people who have to do more of a trial-and-error approach because of their lack of skill in that offering,”” said Julie Kaufman, director, professional service, IDC Canada.

One company bucking the trend is SMC, which is one of a handful of organizations that do not require its resellers to be trained or certified.

“”We don’t require the resellers to be trained at all . . . we don’t limit anyone’s ability to sell the products,”” said Tony Stranmandionoli, director of marketing for SMC Networks. “”The small reseller is just as important as the big reseller. Not everybody has money [to] spend on training courses for sales engineers.””

“”Because there isn’t [any] enforcement of having to pay to learn about additional core products, they seem to be more open to trying the products — to evaluate them and so forth and put them into a customer site,”” said Angelo Kociper, distribution and retail manager for SMC Canada. “”It allows them a little flexibility to offer a second line of product without having to make a huge up-front investment.””

Selling solutions, not products

Budgets are tight and IT departments are no longer able to spend money on technology for technology’s sake, which has forced resellers to change their focus.

“”No one is really selling products, they’re selling solutions,”” said Fick of 3Com. “”Several years ago, the technical people used to be the guys that came in at the very end of a sales cycle, if not when the PO [purchase order] was closed . . . Now, I see the technical sales people are the front people within an account’s sales. We’ve seen our sales people move to more in-depth penetrating account manager as opposed to being business managers. Our technical people have turned into solutions architects.””

Customers of solutions-based sales are now benefiting in two ways — their company’s needs are being met by one reseller who offers them an entire package, not just one piece of the puzzle, and the process of determining the company’s needs has become less tedious.

“”I think it used to be fairly grueling for [customers] before,”” said Fick. “”[During] sales visits, they weren’t getting all the information they needed and the sales guy was struggling to get the technical information to them. But now I think we see a lot more four-legged sales calls with the sales people and these technology solutions architects so they can address all the needs within a short time.””

“”I think there’s a shared responsibility between the reseller network and the manufacturer group to support [solutions-based] training . . . [Resellers] probably should be more proactive, but they’re focused on their short-term business results,”” said David Connal, manager, learning solutions, Maritz Canada Inc. “”[Resellers are] doing what they need to do in order to stay certified, but part of [the problem is] they’re not presented with the right tools to take it to the next step.””

But not all manufacturers are keeping pace with this shift and are still providing resellers with product-based training instead of solutions-based.

“”There’s a real disconnect in the messaging. Everybody’s talking about solutions end users are buying; there’s increased rigour about buying solutions versus buying products, [and customers are] demanding business cases and yet . . . the education [manufacturers are] pushing down to their people is very technically-focused and not business-focused.””

“”Training and training along certification paths are not going to improve until IT spending improves — until we can actually start seeing more significant investments, more software investments, and new technology investments being implemented,”” said Kaufman. “”Employers aren’t willing to train for something they might need in the future. They’ll be willing to train on things they need now . . . that’s the only thing that’s driving the demand for training and certification right now.””

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