James Arnold-Roberts, Genius CEO, looks at the evidence.
With the growing complexity of communications infrastructures, vendors of hardware and software are placing increasing emphasis on the importance of certification for their solution providers. At the same time, the proliferation of industry and channel awards is placing further pressure on providers to protect market position.
So it’s understandable that some are questioning whether the considerable amount of time, effort and expense incurred on this kind of recognition is actually worth it. Do accreditations yield any return on investment for providers, are industry award-winners more qualified to deliver complex projects – and do customers really care?
In answering these questions, perhaps the biggest challenge for solution providers is in determining which certifications are just a mandatory cost of doing business, simply giving access to a particular solution, compared with those that demonstrate a genuine competence and advantage in a specialist area. Arguably, the former is cosmetic, while the latter adds value as a true business differentiator and reassures customers that they’re dealing with a company who knows what they’re doing.
From the vendor’s viewpoint, the greater the number of communications professionals that are certified, the better the provider will be at implementing their products within a larger IT solution. This should result in more satisfied customers – which potentially means more business for both the vendor and the provider. So, in pursuit of higher levels of customer satisfaction, many vendors have now stepped up the qualification criteria required to achieve top partner status.
One of the resulting issues is that an increasing number of providers are opting out of channel programmes because the cost of achieving accreditation is just too high. In response to this, some vendors have started to review and simplify their top tier certification procedures in an attempt to attract more participants – either through speeding up processes or encouraging a focus on fewer, specialist areas of competence.
For some providers, the benefits of accreditation are less to do with technical competence. Being accredited as a top-tier vendor partner means leveraging product discounts that can be used to price competitively for new business, and passing on the benefit to the customer. It can also provide a good source of business leads, referred by the vendor to their best partners.
For customers, the affirmation of a provider’s skills through top tier vendor accreditation can provide valuable reassurance of their abilities in a particular area or with a specific type of technology. This is probably more important when working with smaller, more specialist providers who are able to support their credentials with the same acknowledgement of competence as the larger players. In this instance, certification can level the playing field at the start of an appointment process because customers know that despite size, all the providers they’re talking to are vendor-qualified to the same level.
There are, of course, many other factors that impact on a customer’s choice of provider – not least the level of service and support offered. And there are accreditations in these areas too, with some providers taking steps to achieve clear differentiation through achieving certifications in product, engineering, sales and customer service. G3 Comms, for example, is currently the only UK Avaya Connect Partner to hold both Platinum accreditation and Partner in Customer Excellence recognition simultaneously. The certification process for both awards is rigorous, time-consuming and ongoing, but many customers say it provides them with an underlying confidence about the business.
On the other hand, many suggest that winning channel awards sponsored by media publications carries little if any sway with potential customers – even though there is still a time and cost commitment for providers in preparing entries and attending ceremonies. These awards, I would suggest, are an example of the cost of doing business, rather than a marque of excellence that translates into real value – for the provider’s business or for customers.
It’s easy to criticise awards when you don’t win them! In fact, I can cite several occasions when we have been approached at an award evening by someone interested in doing business with us because we were holding a winner’s trophy. (We’ve won three this year). So awards can’t be written off.
Even with the most highly regarded accreditations, being able to capitalise on all the investment in certification is a tough challenge for both vendors and providers. No matter how much stock customers attach to accreditations, it remains to be seen whether you can turn them into a marketing asset that can prove a tangible return on investment. But I still believe it’s an investment worth making – how about you?
James Roberts – CEO Genius Networks