Like most marriages, the close partnership of vendors with resellers can stir up conflict, not least in the area of training and enablement. But if the relationships are to be mutually profitable, effective programmes must be developed in that area as in others.
CRN industry briefing ‘Recruit, enable and grow’ -- sponsored by reseller training and enablement firm Riverview Channel Services -- discussed the best approach to training and enablement of channel partners.
Simon Meredith, the event’s chairman, and managing director at PR consultancy Meredith Media Services, said channel partners really are looking for vendors to take the bull by the horns and provide appropriate training that fits. Yet many if not most resellers and technology providers have rather different long-term directions and strategies – not to mention end user customers, solutions, strengths and weaknesses.
“There is no question that training and enablement is becoming a much more imporant issue for the market today, a much more mature market perhaps than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” said Meredith. “So we need to know what works and what does not.”
Liam Mulhall, EMEA managing director at Riverview Channel Services, panellist at the event and 21-year veteran of the IT industry, reckoned he has at least part of the answer.
“Now -- as it was back then – for better or worse, in sickness and in health, the industry is married to the channel distribution model with all that it means in terms of advantages,” he said. “But you’re leaving your ‘baby’ in the hands of someone who might not have your best interests at heart.”
Training is non-core to vendors
Mulhall said neither vendors nor the channel are necessarily best-placed to deliver effective training and enablement – not for any want of care but because training is non-core to their businesses. Vendors and the channel, he suggested, do not enjoy the most symbiotic relationship. Both follow the money – and that can be moving in different directions for each partner.
Mulhall said even very large vendors could struggle not only to find and select the right reseller partner for any particular solution but to figure out exactly what the partner needed in order to best maximise sales without detriment to itself. Every vendor saw the value from the partner, however, but it didn’t always work the other way around.
“It is very important that those guys [channel partners] see the value from the vendor,” Mulhall said. “So we take over the execution of vendor channel enablement programmes.”
An online survey conducted by CRN for Riverview found that 59 per cent of respondents believed that only the people most relevant to the final objectives should be selected to do any specific course of training. Another 19.8 per cent said that as many people as possible should be trained, with a further 15.4 per cent opting for including the whole sales team in training.
Sixty-nine per cent of those polled said that classroom training is best, with 22 per cent putting online tuition top in terms of preferred delivery method. Self-study, webinars, and videos also scored highly as delivery methods.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 69.4 per cent said that the biggest obstacle to doing more sales and solutions training is lack of time, with the cost of training being the top barrier for 47.1 per cent of respondents. Location problems were the biggest barrier for another 28.2 per cent of those polled.
For technical training, 64.7 per cent said time was the major bugbear, and cost was the main obstacle for 63.5 per cent.
Yet according to the survey, 36 per cent of channel players did not get to review their training needs regularly with vendors.
The big vendors – Microsoft, HP, Cisco, IBM, and the like – were considered by respondents to have the best channel certification programmes currently available. Many of those, however, appeared on respondents ‘worst certification programmes’ list as well – with cost, frequency, quality, and location coming up as the primary reasons why.
Yet most agreed that good training will be reflected in sales. “There needs to be a complete sea change in the way some vendors treat training. They need to see that having credible training programmes can translate directly into won contracts, via making pre-sales teams into highly credible experts,” wrote one respondent.
All of this suggests that vendors and the channel still have a longer, yet worthwhile, row to hoe before either side gets maximum benefit from channel training and enablement opportunities, said Riverview’s Mulhall.
Richard Cook, managing director of services provider Blue Chip, said that over the years it had gained a lot of experience dealing with different vendor programmes, and that getting the training to the right people in a business is important – and not that easy to achieve. Keeping all parts of the business engaged with each other was part of the answer.
Mentoring was one of the best ways of getting traction with a product, connecting staff that already had the knowledge with others that needed to learn. That also provided the much-needed (and sometimes ignored) follow-up and helped training stay relevant in a situation where it needed tailoring to the individual IT provider.
“Every reseller is different,” said Cook.
In these times of technological and market convergence, providers need regular up-skilling on gaps in their expertise, to provide the end-to-end solutions to real business problems that customers want, he said.
“For example, for WAN acceleration, you need to know BT pricing – carrier pricing – so there is quite a lot of different disciplines there that are needed to make these products a success,” said Cook.
But there are also too many hoops for channel partners to jump through, and often substantial technology cross-over. Training should be restructured to reflect this problem, he added.
Many products are proprietary
Juniper Networks head of managed services solutions marketing Nigel Stephenson agreed that training is an issue currently snowballing. He didn’t believe, though, that completely vendor-agnostic training would work as so many products are proprietary.
“We are trying to build in more pre-sales [training] and so on. But do you set up a service and add support, or set up support and add the service?” he asked. “As a vendor, Juniper probably confuses the channel a little bit by having so many opportunities for training, at different levels. We sell networking equipment and sell to the largest switch providers and also to enterprise customers, so it’s quite a wide range of customers and partners we work with.”
There was also administering marketing development funding as well, which could get challenging. Juniper had ended up with “lots and lots” of small activities around training, with no clear overall perspective, Stephenson said.
Truly individual training is too costly, so individual needs must be assessed and built into a channel programme, he said.
Matthew Proctor, divisional director of training services at distributor Arrow ECS, said communication and delivery are key to what it does, but vendors do not often seem to have a clear strategy around their programmes, which are often “too complex” with “too many variables” which made it difficult to communicate the benefits to resellers.
“And customers are limited in resources, and by financial pressures,” he said. “If they can’t see a benefit to spending [on training] they won’t.”
Proctor said clear and achievable goals must be set for participants. Too often, people return from training and are not aware of why they have done the training in the first place. The bigger picture needs to be built into any programme so trainees understand the purpose and role they are expected to play now and in future around that technology and in relationship to larger business objectives.
“But the vendor should not be guided too much by the reseller. The vendor should direct the programme and how it’s going to work,” Proctor said.
Deal with issues and solutions
The CRN poll also found that respondents want vendors to provide more specific sales information that deals with issues and solutions -- rather than features and benefits. Many of those polled also said that more incentives, rewards, prizes or discounting would also be of value in encouraging the channel to sign up to training courses and get results.
One answer requested further salary increases.
More courses should be locally available, according to a number of those surveyed. One called specifically for more training accessible to VARs based in central Scotland.
“Provide realistic, cost-effective training centres that are not in London,” wrote another.
Some complained of lack of relevance, and unenthusiastic training. Death by PowerPoint may still be often seen in channel education presentations.
“Use relevant and current examples,” one added. “Too many times quotes, case studies, facts and figures are mentioned but are months if not years old. Provide useful material, battlecards might be an aged offering but they still hold much more weight and value to sales people then being inundated with masses of information in a variety of formats.”
Licensing details on the products featured was also important – and could make all the difference when trying to close a sale. Several mentioned the importance of structured programmes that follow up training sessions within a short enough period of time, alongside management buy-in that worked towards a target and evolving strategy.
“Too many times training is delivered and then without that being driven by an individual or individuals, all the time spent can go to waste,” one said. And vendors were the ones seen as needing to carry the can: “When all is said and done, it’s vendor product.”
Technical certification, followed by pre-sales product training, then sales solutions training, and sales skills training were seen by respondents as the most useful types of training that vendors currently provide.
Riverview’s Mulhall said that training for the channel needed to go to the next level. Often it was not about sales training or solutions training but about the vendor right-sizing what is available.
Blue Chip’s Cook added that it must offer a good return to the channel partner, because even if the vendor pays, there are costs – especially when revenue-earning staff are away from their duties. “I think the challenge for us is actually taking guys out of the office for training,” he said.
Automation firms UiPath and Automation Anywhere close out their funding rounds with $265m and $300m respectively
View photos of last night's awards ceremony in London
View photos of all the winners from the 2018 Channel Awards
After a glittering awards evening in Battersea celebrating 25 years of the Awards, we are pleased to share the list of winners and judges' commended winners