Pitfalls of Partner Training & How Vendors Can Bridge Gap

MSP TODAY NEWS

Pitfalls of Partner Training & How Vendors Can Bridge Gap

By Contributing Writer
Stuart R. Crawford



The business landscape has changed significantly in the past few years. Channel partners are working with multiple vendors, end-users are driving digital transformation, and customers want better outcomes. As organizations rely on outside parties more and more for everything from training delivery to technology, it's becoming more crucial to evolve from "suppliers" into "partners."

In today's ultra-competitive environment, training and development can provide a competitive edge. However, with reduced or static budgets, it's critical that the right choice is made when it comes to a training partner. Bridging the gap between partner training can often be evasive, especially in our industry. However, the payoffs can be substantial in terms of the improved partnership, improved performance, revenue, and client satisfaction.

An effective training partner will have a toolkit of methods to effectively deliver content. Training partners must be able to suggest the right method based on the matter at hand and the importance of the training. Channel partners should feel comfortable sharing their own ideas on how training can be delivered. Channel partners should have a thorough understanding of today's learning principles and drive leading retention and utilization of materials.

As the shift continues, we've heard many discussions about the pitfalls of partner training and the things that are missing in some of their vendor-partner relationships. We recently reached out to leaders in the industry to learn more about some of the challenges of partner training and how vendors can bridge the gap.

What Do Channel Partners Want from Vendors?

Vendors could increase their retention and partner engagement by proactively providing training to their clients. So many vendors have training buried in knowledge bases. Best or worse, you have to buy time to get training.

Blake Schwank, President and CEO of Colorado Computer Support shared six key things he would like to see implemented to help further the partnership:

  1. Proactive outreach from vendors offering training.
  2. Proactive calls with partners to evaluate gaps in knowledge.  While we do talk to our account managers regularly, it is usually around the latest sales.  We need a leadership meeting, strategic planning, focus on the future and what our needs and training are.
  3. A solution where we can train our techs at different levels, do online learning, and track their success through a dashboard.  An LMS of sorts for an MSP.
  4. Training outside of conferences.
  5. We now spend our days on zoom – it is easy to offer to present to our teams.
  6. Don't make me pay – I just had to buy a block of hours at $225 per hour from ConnectWise to get some ConnectWise sales training and optimization.  That just makes me want to move to another platform.

We frequently see programs that are only focused on the end result and that only reward those with the best performance on that metric. While these programs do show initial results, they will eventually fizzle out. If you have the same top performers every year, there is a real chance that others will lose their motivation, resulting in slow sales.

''From my perspective, vendor training requirements are all over the place, as you know, so we evaluate every vendor individually. The main thing we look at is ROI. Basically, if we invest in the training and/or certification, what can we expect in return?  For example, Microsoft is one of our most important partners, so we invest time, money, and resources to make sure we stay current and continue to add certifications because the return is huge for us. It makes financial sense. Other vendors' requirements sometimes make us take pause and consider a different partnership if the juice isn't worth the squeeze.''

-Luis Alvarez, President & CEO, Alvarez Technology Group

What Are the Right KPIs to Measure?

There are different types of KPIs vendors can track for a training program. Other vendors focus on how the training program impacts business results, such as comparing profits, production, or quality before and after the training program.

''It is difficult to narrow down specific KPIs when there is a lot of fluidity between vendors providing different products. A big thing we look for is whether the vendor provides levels of depth to their training. For example, there could be 2 to 3 tiers of sales training that, with each level, go into more depth into the products with greater detail. There is a fairly large difference between sales and technical sales. Someone who can pitch the product versus someone who can deliver the exact right product solution to a customer with an understanding of the details are two different people. In smaller companies, this may end up being the same person, but the training between the two job roles feels very different. With each level of additional training, they should build upon one another to provide more collaborative training that'll help build upon previously learned lessons rather than "data dumping" everything at once.''

-Nick Martin, Director of Managed Services, Mainstreet IT Solutions

Choose a Training Format That Suits the Audience

Vendors must do some research to understand the level of skills that partners possess. It might be uncovered that the partners need some basic sales training program that is not directly related to their products and/or services. You must also decide how you are going to deliver the information. Vendors can choose to conduct brick-and-mortar training sessions, trainers traveling from one location to the next, emailing training materials, conducting online training sessions, or combining all of these. 

''In a perfect world, vendors train partners and offer them up-to-date product information and brochures with both vendor and client-facing information. However, in reality, partners have little to no time for proper and formal training from vendors. Vendors also rarely have up-to-date and current product information to share with partners. Many times, vendors do not properly inform partners about the latest products available or products that will soon be discontinued. This causes many issues with partners properly quoting their clients. What I do with my business is to set up a regular cadence of phone calls with my vendors. At least once a month, I touch base with each of my vendors and discuss upcoming events, new products and services, and what specific areas we see needs for our clients. I also ask my vendors about training on these specific products. This way, my employees and I will have up-to-date information on the products and services that we need training for. I find this solution is much more time-efficient and rewarding.''

-Anthony Buonaspina, BSEE, BSCS, CPACC. CEO and Founder, LI Tech Advisors

''From my experience as an MSP, training is generally available for all who want it from most vendors.  Some of our regular vendors include Microsoft, RingCentral, ThreatLocker, and Trend Micro to name a few.  But, the way vendors handle partner training varies widely from one company to another.  Most vendors will make you aware that training is available and urge you to become proficient as it benefits all parties. Other companies tend to force-feed you their sales processes without considering the different types of relationships MSPs have with their clients.  MSP's do not push products on clients until they are fully vetted with real-world experience and they fill a gap or improve upon existing conditions.  When that initial vetting process is complete, the sale comes in the form of a recommendation in most cases.''

-Joe Cannata, Owner, Techsperts, LLC

''Being an I.T. solution provider for the past 33 years, we have experienced our fair share of vendor training programs.  Some of the concerns are vendors who force you to concentrate your training on technologies or products that they want you to sell (but you may not be interested in selling) in order to maintain your "authorization" with them, while others make you jump through unnecessary programs or testing hoops. Another issue is onerous "re-certification" training requirements.  Partners who hold existing certifications should be able to test out of re-certification requirements, or at least be allowed to take an abbreviated "update" course in order to meet re-cert requirements.

The other factor is costs. You can agree or disagree with me on this, but I think vendor training should be free to the partner. In fact, I think the vendor should offer a financial incentive to complete the training.  Even if a vendor doesn't charge a fee for their training, partners still have significant costs getting their people trained.  The biggest cost is the fact that we are taking a valuable human resource off the playing field to complete training (with the associated lost opportunity costs), and we still have to pay our people while they are doing the training (so that is a direct expense to the partner).  So, when the vendor charges for the training on top of all that, it just seems like a one-way street, where the partner is bearing all of the costs.''

-Adam A. Fadhli, Founder, President, and Owner, Discovery IT



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