India IT channels skeptical about performance-based partner programs

With OEMs throwing caution to the wind by ditching the traditional certification-based partner programs, Indian channel partners weigh the pros and cons of stepping into the new model.

In January 2018, networking giant, Riverbed unveiled the ‘Riverbed Rise’, a new global channel program that aims to create a level playing field for partners across all levels. In an interview with CRN, Riverbed channel leader Bridget Bisnette described the traditional certification-based programs as “very 1990s.”

The company’s new channel strategy is performance-based, which means channel partners will now be rewarded on the basis of sales, and rewards are tied to activities that drive profitability.

“Certification is the differentiator and it is vital for channels. Of-course our costs are much higher compared to someone who is not certified, but that’s what sets us apart in the market.”

SHIVRAM IYER

                                                    Shivram Iyer, CEO, Dixit Infotech Services

The idea – it is no longer the vendor’s responsibility to dictate to partners the kind of competencies they need.

Related: Riverbed pitches a level playing field for channel partners

In an interaction with ChannelWorld, partners discuss the merits of competency vs performance models, status quo, and what they wish to see in the immediate future of partner programs in India.

Certification vs Performance

Shivram Iyer, CEO at Mumbai-headquartered Dixit Infotech Services, believes that certification is the differentiator and it is vital for channels. He sees Riverbed’s move as a one-off and says it is not going to become a trend with other vendors. “Of course our costs are much higher compared to someone who is not certified, but that’s what sets us apart in the market,” he points out.

In terms of selling more sophisticated offerings and emerging tech in the market, there is some disconnect. “When you talk about analytics, business intelligence (BI) and cloud, all partners are in the formative stage. In BI and artificial intelligence (AI), the more you climb the vertical chain, second-tier partners lack the hold on the market as they are not yet ready,” he explains.

For Pawan Khurana, CEO of Gurgaon-based QuantM, there are two sides to the story. Before becoming the CEO of QuantM, Pawan worked at IBM and describes the channel-vendor relationship as quid pro quo. “If a company has no incentive to have technically qualified salespeople, it would not be motivated to generate revenue for those who do not reward efforts and investments in education,” he opines.

 

“Even the likes of a company like Dell who were focused on a direct model went the indirect route. Ultimately, the choice lies with the company. Do you want to use your own resources or leverage partners?”

PAWAN-KHURANA

                                                    Pawan Khurana, CEO, QuantM

Citing Dell’s example, which launched its first official and global channel program in 2008, he says, “Even the likes of a company like Dell who were focused on a direct model went the indirect route. Ultimately, the choice lies with the company. Do you want to use your own resources or leverage partners?”

But what if the vendor wants to expand its portfolio, shouldn’t partners be allowed to be flexible in order to sell more?  “If you are expanding your portfolio, it is even more important for you to go proactively into the partner community, identify preferred partners, train them on skills and certifications, and then take them to market. You’ll have a far better result,” says Khurana.

Status quo and the channel wish list

Although the partner community has more trust in the traditional competency-based model, it comes with its own thorn in the side. Anuradha Kaur, MD at One Network Consulting, says that certification model poses a huge problem that all partners have to go through. “Once employees are trained, they get poached by competitors or switch jobs, whereas the company pays for the certification.”

She believes that either the OEM or the employee themselves should be funding the certification and one should not expect the SI to pay for the certification at all.

“There are some customers who’d want to go with a platinum partner only. Certification definitely adds more value, but in the real industry, the dynamics of picking up business are totally different today. If the customer has confidence in my services, then certification shouldn’t matter.”

ANURADHA-KAUR

                                         Anuradha Kaur, MD, One Network Consulting

Echoing Kaur’s viewpoint, Khurana says, “If a partner has certified an employee on a particular technology, that certification should have a validity, expiry and renewal requirement.” It should be valid only for the duration of an employee’s tenure.

Performance over competency?

“It’s very different in every scenario. There are some customers who’d want to go with a platinum partner only. Certification definitely adds more value, but in the real industry, the dynamics of picking up business are totally different today,” explains Kaur.

She believes that the USP of partner organizations is what they offer to their customers. “If the customer has confidence in my services, then certification shouldn’t matter,” she adds.

There is also the question of how long it takes to invest in a certification to reach a higher level. While a channel partner might feel more confident going to a customer if their team is more certified, there are times when it’s not feasible to keep so many resources on board. It’s no longer easy to maintain that run rate anymore or have a monopoly in the market.

“While scrapping the certification-based model will obviously affect partners who have invested heavily with a vendor, it will also open doors for new partners who are trying to do business with them.”

SUDHIR-SHARMA

                                         Sudhir Sharma, Director, Versatile Infosecurity

Sudhir Sharma, director at Versatile Infosecurity, believes that while scrapping the certification-based model will obviously affect partners who have invested heavily with a vendor, it will also open doors for new partners who are trying to do business with them. “If a vendor says that they do not want to dictate competency and they will work with partners irrespective of existing skillsets – it can attract new companies,” he adds.

Are tech channels in India ready to take a leap of faith and bid goodbye to the traditional certification model? Perhaps, not so soon. And that is how they expect their OEMs to remain.