The right level and type of training is fundamental for any reseller with aspirations of selling to and servicing their customers properly - which is why vendors in the Middle East are now paying greater attention to their channel training policies.
Good quality training is the lifeblood of any vendor's partner programme. At the very least, the reseller enhances its pedigree in the market by ensuring that its sales people and engineers are steeped in specific product and technology capabilities - with skills refreshed on a regular basis.
And for the vendor, training is a vehicle for encouraging resellers to become value-added extensions of its own sales operation, delivering product expertise and consolidating brand reputation in the field.
But the benefits of a successful training programme penetrate even deeper on both sides of the relationship, as Taj El-Khayat, head of channels at Juniper Networks, explains. "A trained channel makes a huge difference," he insisted. "By segmenting the training programmes to different tiers within your channel, you can give the right focus, level of information and tools that fit the channel's business model.
"A one-size-fits-all model does not work. We're a channel-driven organisation and it is key to have a well-trained channel in order to continue to grow and win more customers and, more importantly, to enable partners to be uniquely competitive and achieve the aspired-to profitability."
Like Juniper, many vendors in the Middle East now adopt a university-style approach to channel education, raising the kudos of brand-specific qualifications. Juniper's J-Partner Academy, for example, is a modular programme for tier-one partners, designed to turn salespeople from product specialists to complete solution specialists, strengthened by technology excellence.
Tier-two and -three partners benefit from the J-Partner Empower Programme, delivered via the vendor's authorised distribution network, which offers a monthly one-day session and drills new recruits in the vendor and its products, culminating in sales training. There are also ‘Quick Start' one-day technical workshops focusing on the UTM space.
These programmes are underpinned by the six-monthly J-University event, designed to update the channel, raise awareness and boost education across the partner portfolio.
Variations on this model abound across the vendor community in the region, while e-learning formats remain popular and effective for self-paced training, traditional classroom delivery continues to fulfil demand for hands-on experience. And this variety is supplemented by a range of live web training options, workshops, update modules and onsite assistance.
Reseller training requirements are so diverse that vendors are driven to provide ever more sophisticated training models that take cyclical and seasonal influences into account without compromising the reseller's precious time at the sharp end of sales. Training programmes are also often incentivised to maintain motivation.
"Our depth training is spread throughout the year on a quarterly basis, focusing on specific topics and segments per quarter," said El-Khayat. "We try to leverage three to four days per quarter, where we ensure that the time investment made by the partner is well spent. We address sales, pre-sales and technical modules in this span of time, in parallel, to ensure we don't capture much time from the field."
He says reseller expectations depend very much on their size, business model and maturity. But in the complex and fast-evolving network and security market, for example, there is a strong preference for classroom and on-site training where salespeople and engineers can get their hands on the kit. Online elements are better suited to theory - although even for this, some vendors, including infrastructure specialist Siemon, prefer to stick with face-to-face programmes.
"Our training follows a classroom format with plenty of practical sessions delivered over either one or three days, depending on the training required," explained Iyer Sivakumar, Siemon's Middle East sales manager. "No channel training is currently delivered online, as Siemon prefers to have a more active involvement with the channel."
All media have an important role to play, suggests Judhi Prasetyo, regional channel manager at network security specialist Fortinet Middle East, which offers classroom training based on an official curriculum designed for engineers who wish to pursue certification. There are also self-paced and live web training options, as well as a variety of non-certification courses and workshops.
"Resellers are aware that different levels and types of training are required, depending on the situation and the partner's requirements," said Prasetyo. "With classroom training, resellers can expect to learn in depth about our products and solutions, not only to be able to pass the exam but also to prepare for challenging scenarios in the field.
"The online training options allow participants to study at their own convenience. The product update training helps resellers to keep themselves up to date with our new products and features in existing products. And the onsite and on-the-job training are essential to enable partners to maintain major installation or complex projects, usually involving integration with other systems."At Juniper, only sales and theoretical technical training is steered down the online route, according to Taj El-Khayat. Partners are encouraged to use this to self-study in preparation for classroom-based learning.
"Online alone is not that efficient," he said, "as we believe that group classroom training is more beneficial; challenges and topics are tackled in a much better fashion for understanding. Attendees can bounce ideas off each other and share experiences that add value to their knowledge."
Prasetyo says incentives are important. Fortinet provides some free training modules via its online campus, while demonstration units are given away at the end of classroom-based modules so that resellers can continue to train themselves and extend their education across their teams back at their own business.
At Fujitsu Technology Solutions, Anthony Peck, director education and training in the Middle East, Africa and India, suggests that the rewards of successfully completing training modules are the real incentive.
"Reseller certification depends on certification of a reseller's individual sales, presale and post-sales staff," he says. "Our certified resellers receive preferred treatment when it comes to project assignment, lead generation and marketing support, making it worthwhile to have their employees trained and certified by us."
Ramzi Itani, channel manager at Symantec MENA, agrees that resellers expect to be able to quantify the return on their investment - time as much as money - in training. Like most vendors, Symantec is constantly refining its programmes to reflect that and is about to announce some significant enhancements.
"Partners will be able to increase their access to Symantec Partner Programme benefits, rewards and incentives through accreditations: the more accreditations the partner achieves, the greater the rebates," said Itani. "Our accreditation offerings include sales and technical specialist programmes. These are available exclusively to partners in a free, flexible online format via PartnerNet," he added.
Some vendors prefer to keep training programmes in-house. Symantec provides product training to resellers directly in the Middle East, for example. And Siemon uses its own trainers to deliver the necessary courses for an installation company to become a certified installer - and qualified to offer a full Siemon 20-year warranty.
"Some distribution partners can offer a one-day training course if they wish, but this course is more concerned with the physical installation rather than the complete building design and installation," said Sivakumar.
Other vendors, including Fujitsu and EMC, use authorised training centres to deliver official certification training. "These are usually not distributors but rather internal or external training centres that are neutral and especially focused on providing training of the highest quality," commented Fujitsu's Peck.
"Most of the time, we rely on a third-party specialised company to run the training," said Havier Haddad, channel sales manager for the Gulf and Levant at EMC, "especially for management training, technical and soft skills training, and subject matter training."
Juniper, too, uses third-party training vendors for its top tier courses and technical certification. For its breadth channel, it relies on its network of distributors.
"They have access to many resellers - usually transactional types of partner who require specific, non-complex, knowledge transfer," said Taj El-Khayat. "We believe that by empowering our distributors to train on our behalf, the breadth channel will enable us to scale up faster and have access to a wider reseller base. This also gives the distributor the ability to drive its unique value-add and practice a true model of value-added distribution."
Fortinet's authorised training centre, Secureway, also happens to be its regional distributor and while training materials are delivered from the US and Europe, courses are taught by an Arabic-speaking instructor.
Fortinet plans for more classroom training sessions to be conducted in cities across the region, so that resellers no longer need to send their engineers to Dubai or Riyadh to attend monthly courses. Siemon already delivers training in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
This reflects one of the most significant developments in vendor training programmes: the increased localisation of content designed to address specific needs, a trend noted by Peck at Fujitsu.
"Our new schedule for October to March 2010 includes brand new modules that will be delivered in the Middle East for the first time, and a shift towards higher-end topics," he revealed.
"We will run, for example, at least three sessions of the new PRIMERGY midrange and high-end service course in that period in Dubai. Our new schedule also includes technical training sessions in new locations such as Jordan and Bahrain. The trend for courses offered in Dubai is towards more higher-end modules.For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.