Jumping ship

“Any questions?” asks the vendor somewhat gingerly at the end of a presentation outlining the latest channel programme to a room full of over-zealous partners.

  • E-Mail
By  Andrew Seymour Published  June 14, 2007

"Any questions?" asks the vendor somewhat gingerly at the end of a presentation outlining the latest channel programme to a room full of over-zealous partners. Up go the hands without any need for further prompting. "How are you going to stop certified members of my organisation joining a rival company?" cries the reseller.

This question, above any other, is raised time and again by resellers who feel there isn't enough intervention when it comes to retaining sales or technical staff who have earned a specific vendor qualification. It is a topic that will, at some point or another, have touched every reseller the industry over, and in the Middle East it continues to remain a prominent issue.

The frustration it creates is perfectly understandable. A reseller invests time and finances in getting an employee certified with a particular vendor, and usually that vendor is exerting a fair amount of pressure on the reseller to do so. Obtaining the certification is not only vital to the skills base of the reseller's business, but it ensures the reseller remains part of the vendor's partner programme - a programme that more than likely provides the reseller with the back-end rebates that guarantee its profitability.

So when an engineer who recently completed a 30-hour course on the latest wireless networking technology uses his accreditation to land a job elsewhere, or worse still is poached by a competitor, it's a little bit galling to say the least. I'm sure there are hundreds of resellers out there who can empathise with this scenario, fully aware of the grief and aggravation it evokes.

Callous observers will dismiss this predicament and understandably point to the ‘swings and roundabouts' philosophy; is the reseller who has just lost his best sales engineer to a rival dealer really going to turn down the chance of hiring a reputed employee from another competitor if the opportunity arises a week later?

Clearly the moral instincts of the reseller are going to be severely tested.

There is also the equally pertinent argument that an employee who is adequately rewarded, highly motivated by the job and possesses strong internal development prospects won't leave the organisation they work for. Therefore, if a reseller loses an accredited member of staff it only has itself to blame for not being able to provide these conditions.

This is also a valid point, but it doesn't really allow for the realities of the situation, nor does it disguise the fact that the situation at hand remains highly emotive for the Middle East reseller channel.

So what can be done to make things better?

Vendors certainly have to put provisions in place to ensure resellers are not penalised whenever highly qualified personnel exit the business. This means a separate accreditation and authorisation for both the individual and the company so that the balance of power does not rest disproportionately with the individual.

I also believe vendors must begin to accept that the cost of training and accreditation should be their responsibility. And if they can't provide these services free of charge then they should at least be heavily subsidised. From my experiences of hearing resellers vent their spleen at the implications of losing qualified staff, the aspect that pains them most is the investment they have made in getting an employee certified.

Persuading vendors to provide more for free is a suggestion that I'm sure many manufacturers would discard as commercially impractical. But then what have they got to lose?

Whether an engineer qualified in a certain product line works for reseller A or reseller B doesn't actually matter to the vendor. At the end of the day, the vendor in question is still benefiting from that qualification in the market. I'm sure a reseller who has just been left high and dry won't see it like that though.

The other issue surrounds the ‘buffer period' that is enforced when a certified employee jumps ship. Take Sun Microsystems, for example. A certified engineer who joins another reseller is refrained from using that certification to aid his new employer until a three-month period has expired. The thinking behind this is that the other reseller has three months (four if you count the notice period the individual have probably had to serve) to seek a replacement and train them up.

At its recent partner conference, some Sun partners were calling for that three-month restriction period to be extended to as long as one year. In my opinion, 12 months is far too long to bar an individual from deploying their skills, not to mention a flagrant breach of employee rights. However, it does illustrate how important it is for vendors to impose clear and consistent rules so that partners aren't handicapped when they lose staff to the competition.

The movement of certified personnel will always be an emotive discussion in this region because of the historic nature of employment regulations. Sponsorship and no objection letters have been at the heart of employment law for years, naturally breeding a culture where the employer develops a sense of ‘ownership' towards the employee. That inevitably collides with the policies of US or European IT vendors who have a different take on the movement of staff between channel partners.

There might not be a simple resolution to solving resellers' grievances, but there clearly needs to be frank and ongoing dialogue between vendors and the channel to ensure resellers impacted by the loss of certified employees are in no way handicapped.

For now though, vendors can still expect to hear the same initial question when their final PowerPoint slide is displayed and they open the floor up for half an hour of Q&A.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code