Back To (Reseller) School
Value-added distributors have developed educational programs designed to help resellers attain certification without exhausting their resources. Taking advantage of these programs could help you enter new markets and increase your sales revenue.
It's time to go back to school. No, we're not talking about your kids. We're talking about reseller education. You want to train your staff about emerging technologies and new products, and you want to teach your sales team how to penetrate up-and-coming vertical markets. But you think you don't have the resources (i.e. time, staff, money) to dedicate to education. If you need at least 30 billable hours each week from your staff members to make budget, how can you justify blocking out three weeks to send them to training sessions around the country?
"The fees for educational programs are only a small percentage of the true cost of training," clarifies Lance Sedlak, director of marketing, enterprise storage at distributor Arrow Electronics (Englewood, CO). "Lost time out in the field and travel expenses are hidden costs. They may be more costly than the course fee."
Well, you may not have to incur those hidden expenses. Many distributors have tailored time-saving educational programs to meet the needs of their resellers. Week-long, out-of-the-office seminars are still available (and necessary in many cases), but a variety of options exist for VARs who can't afford to spend days in a classroom. If your distributor does not offer the services outlined here, suggest they update their training programs. If you don't use a distributor, consider if these services would benefit your company's growth strategy.
Vendors Drive Certification Boom
The type of training you sign up for should depend on the complexity of the technology and the goal of the class. Want to learn only the basics of wireless technology? You can participate in a 90-minute Webinar (i.e. Internet seminar). Need to be certified to sell, install, and service a line of NAS (network attached storage) and SAN (storage area network) products? Expect to travel to a certification course that will last the better part of a week.
Many vendors require VARs to attain certification before selling a product line. If a reseller is certified, vendors are assured that their channel representatives can effectively represent them. VARs can expect fees ranging from $500 to $6,000 per staff member to attend certification courses. "The price includes certification, hands-on labs, and training kits," says Barb Miller, director of technical services for distributor Tech Data Corporation (Clearwater, FL). "VARs should prove to themselves and to the vendor that they are prepared to sell and service certain products."
Peter O'Brien, VP of partner services at distributor ScanSource (Greenville, SC), says many VARs want to be trained on vertical markets, but vendor mandates oftentimes take precedent. "The concept of vertical training is going to be our biggest training initiative in 2004," he says. "Through a variety of educational venues, we're going to help resellers move into markets they want but don't have the expertise in. But, about 33% of our courses are certification-based because many vendors are requiring their resellers to be authorized. VARs' ambition to take these courses is driven by the vendor's requirement."
Understand that non-certified training and certified training are complementary to each other. "Resellers are leaving the comfort zone of what they've sold through the years, so we provide them with general information to understand the scope of a new market," says Tech Data's Miller. "Once we do that, they need more technical training and have the basics to begin the certification process."
Benefits, Limitations Of Web Training
Several distributors are saving VARs time by offering educational programs via the Internet. Web classes are typically more sales-oriented and less technical because technology training often requires hands-on lessons. "Our Web training is designed to help resellers understand what opportunities exist in new markets," says Bill McFadden, VP of marketing for distributor Westcon Group North America (Tarrytown, NY). "We talk about what next steps they will need to take and what training is available to go after that opportunity."
ScanSource's O'Brien said that, previously, 70% of his company's training programs were held on-site, usually a regional seminar at a hotel. Now ScanSource is shifting its focus to Web-based training because it's more economical for its VARs, and it's not limited to a regional audience. "To some extent, the Web-based functions provide an introduction level to the topic," O'Brien says. "We then follow up with attendees afterwards for one-on-one training and have the option to travel to their location for a hands-on class."
A similar alternative for introductory education is self-study. Many distributors provide VARs with books and tutorial CDs. Tech Data's Miller says advanced self-study training should be limited only to your staff members with very technical backgrounds. "Engineers can absorb information much more easily than a salesperson," she says. "I would recommend sales not take a self-study course. They need to be given instruction in doses they can understand."
Training Can Be Stretched Or Condensed
Webinars and self-study may be the first step your staff takes on the path to certification. Step number two may include periodic, interactive training that monitors the course's effectiveness. "After a salesperson returns from a one-week seminar, they fall back into their old habits eventually," says Westcon's McFadden. "A Web-enabled, 12-month program can give them a lesson every two weeks. The salesperson can then apply it to their day-to-day business issues. The program has built-in assessment tools that let you know if you're improving."
Arrow's Sedlak says his company offers five-day "boot camps" that offer a synopsis of technology training. The goals of the camps are twofold: get certified and get back to work. "Resellers don't make money unless their people are out in the field," Sedlak says. "The boot camp gets them trained, certified, and billable." Arrow's camps feature vendor trainers and independent certification testing at their Atlanta training facility. In May, Arrow administered 752 tests to certify more than 100 IBM resellers.
Sedlak said training could be accomplished even faster. He would like to see industry standard bodies develop comprehensive certification programs and individual vendors accept those certifications as well as their own requirements. "If a reseller wants to represent multiple vendors, they have to retake similar classes and tests for each vendor," he says. "That takes productivity out of the reseller's organization. We need to create an environment that eliminates this duplication."
Bottom Line: Education Pays Off
You've heard since kindergarten that education pays. Westcon's McFadden has the numbers to back up that claim. "We saw a dramatic increase in orders placed by resellers who completed our layered security course," he says. "Their quote activity increased 70%, revenue per quote increased 30%, and their overall sales increased 24%."