The state of sales skills and the VAR of the future

2012 is the year for the channel to put its sales, service and technical skills to the test. For our 6th Annual State of Partnering Study, 98 global vendors and 250 North American solution providers gave us insights that make us look at 2012 as a year of bold growth and salesmanship. With a renewed focused on sales skills comes a heightened ability for partners to gain customer insights and provide vendors with a VAR of the future – one that contributes a “Value Added Relationship.”

Vendors and solution providers alike are coming out of their economic bunkers and are maniacally focused on effective execution and renewed top-line sales growth. Channel complexity is no longer tolerated; inflexible channel programs a thing of the past. In recent years, solution providers complained that obtaining (and maintaining) vendor certifications was the leading source of their channel complexity frustrations. Vendors have increasingly realized that their own programs were barriers for partner growth, and that partners needed more help to begin to aggressively drive revenue growth again. With this realization, they began to make a distinct shift from classic post-sales technical skills to a more balanced view of sales and technical competency. This year, vendors are honing in on partners’ pre-sales assessment skills and providing lots of incentives to get the technology demo’d and in front of customers.

Versatile Sales Skills Pose Staffing Challenges

Despite solution providers’ optimism for renewed sales growth in 2012, State of Partnering Study respondents did note concerns with their staffing models. IT sales and technical staff today are expected to have strong foundational IT solution skills, but also have the appropriate vendors’ certifications and specializations specific to their markets and solution-focus areas.

The importance of versatile sales skills is reflected in our study respondents’ 2012 spending plans. Hiring new sales or technical employees ranks as the second-most important part of plans to increase revenue for companies over $20 million. For companies that need to retrain rather than make new hires, vendors are trying to help by offering their field channel managers help from inside sales or help-desk functions. Nearly a third of vendors are also increasing business and financial management training for field partner-facing staff in order to encourage long-term partner development.Paige Erickson, VP of North American Partners and Alliances at CA Technologies, spoke with us about CA building out a comprehensive and detailed plan for its internal sales team. “We work to enable our sales force through many creative activities like running partner academies and webinar trainings.”

Aimee Messina, an account management and marketing specialist with Compulink Technologies, Inc., a national full-service IT solution provider, shared with us that her company does a mixture of re-training current sales teams, offering additional education as well as recruiting new talent. Compulink leans on its distributors’ tech support as well as web-based and in-person training from manufacturers.

We support the drive within most vendors’ programs to build their partners’ technical skills and specializations, especially as emerging technologies such as mobility, virtualization and unified communications accelerate in market adoption. However, we expect to see vendors focus on a more holistic view of their partners’ skills, with sales skills remaining a high priority in vendor enablement programs for 2012 and beyond.

Vendors like VMware, IBM, Cisco and Microsoft who focus on offering inside sales support and pre-sales technique training are seeing partners succeed with their end-user clients through a much more consultative selling approach. The channel’s biggest assets now take on the form of depth of customer insights, understanding of key business processes and services delivery expertise. This evolution changes the way partners and vendors rely on one another. The VAR of the future? Not a “value added reseller,” but a solution provider who brings a “value added relationship” to their supplier as their key asset.

Beth Vanni is Vice President of PartnerPath and can be reached at [email protected].

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