Skills Transfer

Channel education has emerged as a differentiating factor defining the success or failure of vendors operating in the Middle East.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  May 1, 2006

Training days|~|gtkhb200train.jpg|~|Hazem Bazan, HP|~|Channel education is vital to a vendor’s success in the Middle East. Channel Middle East linked up with Kevin Isaac, regional director at security and storage giant Symantec; Hazem Bazan, SPO manager at HP Middle East; Ned Jaroudi, CA area marketing director for EMEA eastern markets, and Sanjeeta Chatterjee, marcom operations manager at accountancy software vendor Tally.

Taj El-Khayat, partner development manager at Microsoft Gulf; Ahmad Qasem, director at value-added distributor Al Yousuf Digital, and Nisar Khan, channel account manager at Trend Micro Middle East and North Africa also gave their input on channel training plans for the region as the quest to develop the skills base that the region’s customers are crying out for continues.

CME: Why is training the channel so vital in the Middle East?

HAZEM BAZAN: Why do you think? Part of the investment that HP or any vendor does with its partners is intended to encourage growth. It is one of the channel investments you have to do to generate a return. It is part of the assets that a vendor owns. Channel training is as important to HP as training up our own staff.

KEVIN ISAAC: The most important thing for anyone involved in the channel is the customer — they are the reason for our existence. Customers need to deal with trained people and we need to make sure that partners can engineer excellence in the market. If we don’t train them then this is not going to happen.

NED JAROUDI: CA operates in the Arab region exclusively through an indirect channel model, which means that our partners in the Middle East are an integral component of our business success. Effective training enables our partners to recommend and demonstrate the correct solutions to be deployed to best meet customer business objectives.

SANJEETA CHATTERJEE: Training is an essential tool to educate channel partners about the product and its features, as knowledge is very important for sales and for business development. Training not only includes knowledge on product features but also helps to improve the selling skills needed. It also helps channel partners understand the vendor’s approach towards the market and the benefits they can receive in terms of marketing and incentives.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: Partner skills development is key as we believe it extends our partners’ market reach, reduces operating and training costs and enables partners to always keep their task force up-to-date with the industry’s fast changing demands.
||**||Skills bills|~|trainisaac200.jpg|~|Kevin Isaac, Symantec|~|CME: How do you finance channel education initiatives?

NISAR KHAN: Trend Micro believes that anything given ‘free’ will have little value associated with it; for that reason we look for a commitment from our channel partners either in terms of resultant revenues they believe they will drive or in fiscal payment for the actual training received.

AHMAD QASEM: Financing channel education is a co-operation between our vendors and us. It is something that we always consider in our annual budget.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: Microsoft believes in co-investing with partners. Our partner academy programme is designed in a way where partners pay an annual fee — aligned with our fiscal year — which constitutes about 35% of the total cost of training. Microsoft truly believes in subsidising the partner skills development effort with the highest quality deliverables in the countries that we operate in.

NED JAROUDI: CA generally charges partners a fee for attending instructor-led courses. However, CA also offers a range of incentives to encourage our partners to commit to the training track. Partners can take advantage of rebates for passing prometric, application of BDF funds, free prometric vouchers and increased discounts for completing training requirements as per agreed business plans.

CME: What is your view on the current level of channel skills in the Middle East?

KEVIN ISAAC: It is good but it is not where we need it to be. I am grateful to partners for what they have done but we do need to do a lot more to achieve the levels of training that we need — especially in some outlying areas. I think that we have also got issues with pockets of excellence in the channel and unfortunately they do not always sit with the most effective partners or the ones that are getting the business. The danger we have is the risk of attrition from one trained partner to another. Skilled people have a tendency to move and that is something we need to try and avoid.

HAZEM BAZAN: If you look at the countries that are evolving most in terms of channel training, education and investment, you need to consider markets such as the UAE and Kuwait. However, other markets such as Iraq are very keen to develop their channel resources. Saudi Arabia is on track now and the resources are building up. Some of the small markets are lagging behind but in general there is a clear commitment from the channel to invest in their people in terms of both technical and sales skills.

SANJEETA CHATTERJEE: On the software side, the channel needs to be educated more on product features and technical aspects such as installation and support services to help them understand the product better and sell more. A partner selling an ERP solution requires thorough product knowledge, pre and post-sales skills, implementation expertise and the ability to provide support.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: Partners in general are starting to scale up in terms of quality and expertise; however, we feel there is a long way still to go to get to the level of having a channel that can be self-sufficient.||**||Time well spent|~|trainmic200.jpg|~|Taj El-Khayat, Microsoft|~|CME: Why should partners spend time attending courses?

NISAR KHAN: Partners should attend training courses to increase their skill set in the products they represent; to raise their value proposition to their customers as well as to their internal staff. By understanding the mindset of the vendors you work with you have a much better opportunity to drive business that is both profitable and matches the vendor objectives.

HAZEM BAZAN: You cannot sell unless you have the know how. Yes, I’m sure some people can argue about whether selling is an innate skill or something that people can develop. Major vendors have sales training certification and I believe in certain areas such as value-based solutions partners require a lot of knowledge about the products, the related services and the associated sales skills. How to put all this together — that is the purpose of the full education package that HP offers in the region today.

NED JAROUDI: Customers are looking for technology partners that can create a solution that will address a specific business issue. To facilitate this, partners require training on technology and business scenarios that they are likely to encounter in the course of business with customers. CA has seen a marked increase in partner recognition of this need inasmuch as they have begun to focus on specific industry sectors and related training. This is a positive step.

SANJEETA CHATTERJEE: The training that Tally conducts is free of charge. Therefore the partners should take full advantage of it and develop product knowledge and understand the business benefits extended by Tally to increase efficiency and sell more.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: Partners in this region are becoming more aware of the need and importance of developing the skills of their employees, not only to fulfil the requirements of their vendors but also as an initiative that fulfils the career development aspirations of their employees and enhances the skills that translate to higher market impact. We have seen that Microsoft partners’ skills are increasing and our partner academy is identifying new business areas that they are starting to venture into.||**||Attrition concerns|~|trainned200.jpg|~|Ned Jaroudi, Computer Associates|~|CME: Some partners claim that highly skilled employees are more likely to leave. How do you feel about this channel concern?

HAZEM BAZAN: HP can help in training and building the skills for partners. However, both vendors and channel partners are in the same position when it comes to finding ways to retain those skills.

NED JAROUDI: All companies face this issue, not just partner organisations. There are many reasons a skilled person would choose to move from one job to another including lack of opportunities, low personal satisfaction, bad compensation plans, negative work environment and even lack of career planning. If a company can address a majority of these issues, then they most likely will not have to worry about losing employees.

SANJEETA CHATTERJEE: Skilled employees are more of an asset to a company than a threat. Skilled employees will be efficient in terms of developing business.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: A key differentiator for Microsoft in channel management is actually how we transfer our best practices and processes to our valued partners when it comes to retaining talent. A key part of our channel readiness is about management training. Our partner account managers own the business development of our partners and that includes training them to help reduce talent attrition.

AHMAD QASEM: When you have highly skilled staff working for the organisation it is imperative that you take good care of them and appreciate their work and effort and offer them loyalty and incentive schemes.

NISAR KHAN: Staff turnover is inevitable — indeed staff turnover is actually healthy for an organisation within certain parameters! Employees of worth will look for new opportunities if they believe their employers are not investing in them as individuals. Just because we develop a person it does not mean they will leave. They are just as likely to leave if we don’t develop them. We all operate in a dynamic, rapidly growing economy — one that attracts ambitious and driven personalities. I’d suggest that if a partner finds the right balance between investment in staff and maintaining their motivation then they should be able to maintain many of their good people.||**||Long-term plans|~|traintally200.jpg|~|Sanjeeta Chatterjee, Tally|~|CME: What are the short-term goals of your Middle East training programme?

NISAR KHAN: Trend Micro’s short-term goals are to ensure sufficient partners in each territory certified to the required levels for the business that they are focused on.

KEVIN ISAAC: The short-term goal is to have a strong and robust training programme in place by early June and our new training manager on board. It is also about making sure that we have sufficient training available in key markets such as Saudi Arabia.

HAZEM BAZAN: I think that short-term it is linked to our preferred partner programme. We are very focused on the preferred partners meeting their requirements in terms of certification and specialisation across the various areas of the programme. Growing the resources in the pre-sales and sales skills required for value solutions for all 143 preferred partners is very important to HP.

NED JAROUDI: Short-term, CA in the Arab countries will continue to offer courses as per market demand to increase the skill levels of its partners. We have a partner training programme going live in Egypt that will continue until the end of May. At the same time we are beginning another training wave in Dubai at the end of May that will continue until June.

SANJEETA CHATTERJEE: Our next quarter is focused on channel partner training programmes that will include all technical, sales and marketing training on the products of each Tally business line.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: We want to excite and enable our partners on Microsoft’s new technology as well as giving them the knowledge required for solution-building aligned with our overall corporate transition.

CME: And what are the long-term goals of your channel training efforts?

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: To create a unique channel ecosystem that consists of partners that deliver on quality, excellence and self-position Microsoft solutions in addition to building a major consultancy pool within our regional channel ecosystem.

NISAR KHAN: Trend Micro’s long-term goal is to identify within the partner community the pioneers of the future — the organisations that have the management ability and agility to see the opportunity and drive their business towards it. Those partners will find Trend Micro standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their teams and assisting in driving their growth.

KEVIN ISAAC: The long-term goal is to make sure that we have all our partners qualified to a level of training and certification that ensures that our customers are satisfied.

HAZEM BAZAN: Long-term it is all about continuing to develop the resources and the programmes. We need to have enough resources in the channel to allow HP to grow its business in both the managed and unmanaged customer accounts across the entire Middle East region.

NED JAROUDI: Long-term CA requires partners that can function as a delivery arm. To this end CA will closely identify those companies and technical staff who qualify for specialist training courses offered to select partners. Those partners who complete level two certification will then be eligible for the certification courses available to CA implementation partners.
||**||Reseller rewards|~|traintrend200.jpg|~|Nisar Khan, Trend Micro|~|CME: How much has the Middle East channel embraced online education?

NED JAROUDI: CA offers the sales foundation training online and this has been well received and enjoys a high rate of success. CA in the Arab countries is now the leader in terms of the highest number of certified partners throughout EMEA.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: One of the key Microsoft partner programme benefits is online training and we have witnessed some adoption around this tool — a slight improvement from previous years. We depend on this concept to actually allow partners to participate in self-paced training.

NISAR KHAN: Trend Micro’s experience is extremely positive here. We have been offering online certification at levels one and two for over two years now and have seen extremely strong adoption and pass rates.

KEVIN ISAAC: It has been embraced on the sales side but not as well on the technical side where partners are more used to a classroom environment. However, we are pushing online training hard and seeing solid uptake.

HAZEM BAZAN: HP has been a leader in using multiple training techniques and online forms part of that. As the telecoms infrastructure has improved in more countries in the Middle East the adoption of training courses available on the web has risen. I would say that less than a year ago some countries were still limited by the infrastructure available to them.

CME: Is there a correlation between channel education and channel margins?

NED JAROUDI: Yes, there is a definite correlation in that the more a partner increases their skill levels the more they will be able to capitalise on up-selling and cross-selling opportunities. In addition, educated partners will have the ability to gain the trust of the end-user making it more likely that they will be able to increase or maintain the margin.

TAJ EL-KHAYAT: There is a direct proportional correlation. Since our programme is not only technical, we tend to work closely with partners on how to bundle their solutions with services and apply best practices to increase their margins.

NISAR KHAN: There is a strong correlation between education and margin: a well-educated partner is more likely to have engaged well with the customer, providing a rounded solution that addresses their issues and therefore draws less resources from the vendors in terms of implementation, support and so on. A well certified reseller has demonstrated investment and commitment to their vendor — they deserve to have those efforts reflected in increased margin.

HAZEM BAZAN: Definitely. Make no mistake about it; there is a big and important link. The more a partner trains its people and the more educated it becomes the more business opportunities it will be able to open up. Training is vital to ensure that a partner has healthy margins.||**||

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