Getting it right: Channel training and certification

Kirsty Gilchrist, MD of Twogether, explains what’s important in channel training and certification, and why

Well, as so often in the tech world, things aren’t exactly as they seem. In this post, I want to look at the value of both activities – and to suggest that, in certain respects at least, times are changing.

No two technology vendors are exactly alike. But it’s a fair bet to assume that, like many others, you depend on channel partners for most or all of your sales. The trouble is, by their very nature, sophisticated technology products tend to be complex. Product lifecycles are often short. Upgrades, updates, patches and fixes make life more complicated.

And, just as technology develops over time, so do customer needs.

New products and services open up new opportunities. Or new applications arise for existing technologies. Bottom line is, your channel partners need a sound (and constantly growing) knowledge of your company’s solutions.  The more they know, the better equipped they’ll be to succeed and meet their sales targets.  As a rough rule of thumb, that knowledge covers:

  • Identifying target audiences and applications
  • Understanding and promoting the benefits
  • How to market, sell and service your product or service.

At a very minimum, it’s vital for a new product launch, or for the expansion of a sales territory. Of course, a lot of the groundwork will have been covered during the partner onboarding process. It’s the richest and most fertile time to plant your message deep. And then you’ll carry on the good work, by nurturing the partner’s teams with continuous training and well-earned certification.

Training builds capability

Thoroughly-trained channel partners understand your products and their value proposition. They’re confident, enthusiastic and motivated.  So far, so obvious. But this is where it starts to get interesting. The closer you can tie training to sales results, the better it will be for the sales reps, for the partners, and for you. It becomes a virtuous circle – good training brings good results, which brings more enthusiasm for training. 

For you, the vendor, this is a double whammy – you get the sales, and you get the mindshare. Because the more committed your partners are to selling your solutions, the less time they have for other, conflicting, vendors in their portfolio. Don’t feel too badly about the unfair advantage. If they’re smart, the other vendors will be trying to do the same to you.)

Certification builds your brand

Once your channel training programme is up and running, get your certification in place. Again, there’s a double benefit. With certification, you can be confident that your channel partners know what they’re doing – and that helps make them proficient at selling your products.

At the same time, certification is sending the same capability message to your partner’s customers and prospects. Even better, certification is time-bound. And, just as your partners chase license renewals, you need to police certification renewal, encouraging partners to stay up to date. Renewal reinforces commitment (from both parties). More, it gives you tangible factors to measure, track and monitor, so you can act fast to investigate any fall-off in performance.

There’s another thing. Unlike training, which can result in peaks and troughs of results, certification is a binary constant – a yes/no. A channel partner is either certified, or not. Diplomas, certificates and office plaques are all recognition of a partner’s commitment – make sure you deliver. It may be just a plaque to you, but for a partner it could mean a sales uptick.

Incidentally, it may not be the partner firm that is certified; it could be an individual sales rep. Where this is the case, find out if the partner links rewards to certification, and encourage the practice.

Here comes the ‘but…’

Despite training and certification having long been a routine part of doing business for the tech channel, change is in the air.

"Technical certification that we all hung our hats on in terms of how you got to the Gold and Platinum [membership] level -- they're still table stakes but they're not the future direction or even the huge concern of the vendors." 1

Diane Krakora, CEO, PartnerPath.                     

This quote – just one that I’ve come across recently – reflects an industry shift in channel training. It’s away from vendor-specific certifications, and towards industry certifications and skills development.

In the same way that channel partners grew from being ‘box-shifters’ to become sophisticated technology sales operations, so industry participants point to the growing importance of non-technical skills development.

And leading players, such as Microsoft and Salesforce, are planning to transform how they deliver channel training and accredit their partners over the coming year.  So does this mean you can take your foot off the gas where technical certifications are concerned?  In 12 months’ time, you may want to reassess your priorities.

But for now, my advice would be to stay with the programme – and reap the rewards.

I’d be interested in your experience with training and certification – comments welcome! And look out for another post in this series.

1 Source: (IT channel training and certification Priorities shift in 2016)