For as long as I’ve been covering the high-tech channel, product training has been a bone of passionate contention between vendors and VARs.
The latter generally want/need skills building for free (considering all the up-front costs associated with taking on a new product before it actually sells), while the former want to see that a reseller is truly serious about selling their technology through some kind of training investment.
Because I am one of those horrid people who see shades of gray where others see black and white, I empathize with both arguments.
Most solution providers will admit they understand that investing in training is part of their business model. What they are asking for is the following:
- The same access to information that a vendor’s internal support and technical engineers receive
- Training options (online, self-paced) that don’t take personnel out of critical client engagements
- Certification processes that are based on their ability to deploy/integrate/support the product in a real-life situation
- Recognition for their existing investments in comparable products
The reason I got to thinking about all this was an item I saw a few weeks back detailing Hewlett-Packard’s move to contract with Microsoft Learning to offer training to technicians that are part of Onforce, the online services marketplace.
Onforce, which is itself controversial in some channel circles because of the way services professionals can bid on jobs (potentially depressing services margins), represents roughly 10,000 IT services professionals. Many of these folks work for VARs or systems integrators and are using the site to boost utilization rates. Some larger organizations, such as Siemens and CompUSA, use OnForce to fulfill service requests across the United States.
The new relationship will enable OnForce participants to use the marketplace as a resource for training and validation on new Microsoft technologies including Microsoft Vista and the company’s Small Business Specialist designation. HP is sponsoring the program through its education services group.
Now, I don’t mean to mislead you into believing this training is free. But by focusing on making it easier for solution providers to keep up to date AND by keeping it top of mind, both HP and Microsoft have reinforced their brand mindshare with members of the OnForce channel community. It’s a philosophy that other tech vendors would do well to emulate. Not necessarily through OnForce deals, but by stepping back to rethink WHAT skills they really want to see represented in front of customers.
If you’re a solution provider with a great story to tell about skills development, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Clancy, principal with Jabberwocky Communications, is a business journalist and strategic communications consultant who has covered the high-tech channel for 18 years.