Training and Certification

Rubel Khan's Blog

The value of IT training, certification programs (Part 1) 13 July, 2009 By Beth Vanni

Posted by Rubel Khan on July 14, 2009

Cultivating a competent and highly engaged partner community has long remained one of the primary goals of many channel programs. As information technology has become increasingly sophisticated and complex, end-users turn toward solution providers more than ever to wade through the maze of emerging technology standards and integration issues to recommend, demonstrate and ultimately deploy technology. Vendors also understand the value of a partners’ trusted advisor status with customers in many market segments and want their unfair share of the technical skills development that influences the customers’ purchase decisions. And, when the ultimate stakeholders — end-users, assess the needs of solution providers, the value of technical certifications ranks far down the priority list.

This research report will address the inter-dependency between end-users, partners and vendors in realizing value in training and certification investments. We triangulate the needs of the end-user, the priorities of the partner and the objectives of the vendor’s channel program as it relates to return on various certification investments. Further, we examine how a solution provider differentiates their value to end-users based on the certifications they hold.

This research study reviewed four major themes in training and certification program value. These included the following: the general perceived value of partners with certifications, by both end-users and vendors; the type of certifications valued (technical, sales, individual and firm-level) by all three communities; the certification motivators vendors offer partners; and performance metrics and ROI tracking on certification investment, by both the channel partner and vendor.

Key Takeaways

Customers want strong relationships, high service levels and solutions. Technical certification is not a highly ranked priority in their criteria for choosing a solution provider.

End-user participants choose the ability to deliver on-time and on- budget as their highest priority need from solution providers (Figure 1). The next three customer needs are: the ability to represent a complete solution; the ability to understand the customer’s overall technology structure; and the skill in managing the relationship with their organization. Training and certification has a place in the customer’s solution provider selection criteria, but it is a surprisingly low priority, compared to these other relationship management skills

We next explored the topic of how the end-user views technical and industry certifications already held by solution providers (Figure 2). Nearly 45% responded they use the certifications as a differentiator between solution providers. But, nearly the same amount (40%) consider certifications a check-box item for purposes of due diligence. Our interpretation is that most customers assume if a partner is promoting a specific technology or vendor’s brand of product, they already have the associated skills (including certifications) to support those technologies.

Partners with certifications are trusted and get more repeat business, but may not be able to command a premium price.

Business relationships are indeed complex to manage. As indicated above, customers value a combination of relationship management skills and technology solutions expertise. Clear preferences emerged when we explored how customers view solution providers who hold vendor or industry certifications. (Figure 3). More than 60% of customers indicated they trusted a certified partner more and involved that partner more readily in future decision making. Also, 60% of end-user respondents engaged more repeat business and purchase services (beyond product) from certified providers.

Interestingly, less than half of customers indicated they were willing to pay a higher price or make their purchasing decisions more quickly with a certified provider. This supports the continued customer trend to separate consultative sales process, services and solutions architecture from procurement decisions or providers. This separation of sales influence from purchasing decision also supports the trend we see among value-based vendor programs to isolate these functions and recognize and reward separately among solution providers.

On average, customers indicated they demand technical or industry certifications 21% of the time from their solutions providers. Given that they ranked the value of certifications as 8th on their list of priorities, that seems aligned. Further, and as a supporting point, solution providers indicated they lost a customer opportunity because of lack of technical or industry certifications on average only 25% of the time. So, all other pre-sales skills notwithstanding, solution providers’ certification investment only won them the differentiated value with a customer 1 in 4 times  a ratio that would likely surprise many of their vendors.

 

Beth Vanni is Director of Market Intelligence, Amazon Consulting. For more information on study, contact bvanni@amazonconsulting.com or visit http://www.amazonconsulting.com.

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