A survey conducted by marketing research company Marketing Methods identified that while 96 per cent of dissatisfied resellers' customers never complain, 90 per cent never return. Clearly, there is no second chance for the reseller - get it wrong and you've blown it.
Consequently, the right staff should be of paramount importance to resellers, but how do you let your customers know they exist?
The solution currently propagated by the networking industry is the much maligned system of manufacturer accreditations, argued by many dissenting voices to have become increasingly devalued, and little more than bumper stickers or go-faster stripes available to any reseller Sunday drivers.
Who wants them?
Having accumulated so many accreditations, how can resellers be faithful to all the quality levels associated with each individual manufacturer? Are accreditations worth the paper they're written on? As a company that values the sole networking accreditation it trades on, LanBase thinks so.
Novell was one of the first companies to recognise the benefits of ensuring a guaranteed quality of service level and to develop a program to identify the engineers which adhered to these levels.
Novell's introduction of accreditations was seen as a great innovation.
It was aimed at individual engineers, giving Novell suppliers a way in which it could differentiate itself from its competitors.
This enhanced the accredited suppliers' prospects of winning sales and the much-prized user support contracts. Given the choice, users would ultimately prefer to have a 'manufacturers technically approved engineer' on site to resolve problems, compared to the non-accredited engineer who, possibly, did not know the first thing about Novell software.
But, it wasn't long before everyone wanted a piece of the action. As the good news of the accreditation spreads, everybody got on the bandwagon, to the point where nearly every engineer went through certification, attaining Novell certified status.
This was good news for the user, as there was a greater chance of having someone who knew what they were doing. However, it no longer became a differentiator of any note for the certified engineer or the Novell supplier.
This is the present situation so many now decry. The accreditation bandwagon has rolled on, to the point where the user now expects to see qualified engineers supporting products. However, where once accreditations were a major attraction to resellers and users alike, their proliferation has caused confusion. Accreditations are perceived by many as little more than extras to bolster marketing strategies.
I would argue this is not necessarily the case. In fact, if an accreditation is worth having, then I guarantee a lot of blood, sweat and tears will have gone into achieving it.
For example, major manufacturers now expect resellers to employ certified engineers as a prerequisite to selling their products. This places pressure on resellers to get their engineers through product certification, which, when granted, is usually allocated to the individual engineer. If that engineer leaves to join another company, the pressure is back on the reseller to go through the process again.
This is a costly and time consuming process, so users should be assured the reseller has shown commitment and investment in training its staff to the required level and maintaining that level.
Ultimately, it boils down to a question of manufacturer training levels and standards. The onus has to remain with the manufacturer to keep pressure on the reseller, and to ensure guide lines and training are of the highest standard. Furthermore, it could be argued that it isn't the accreditation itself that should be examined, but the continuous activities a reseller has to undertake to maintain its accreditation.
It would be foolish to group all accreditations in one basket. Accreditation has a lot to offer the user and reseller if stringently applied. Vars that believe in providing a quality service and putting the customer first will have nothing to fear.
Keith Berry is managing director of LanBase.
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