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One of the things that most solution providers find insulting is the simple fact that they essentially have to pay for the privilege to sell products for the benefit of vendors.

The reasons that most vendors have certification programs in the first place is because they believe it’s an effective mechanism for trimming the ranks of solution providers, which is theoretically a desirable goal because too many solution providers in the market would lead to lower prices that threaten profit margins for all.

To keep the ranks of solution providers limited, vendors reason that VARs should show their commitment by paying for training to get employees certified on the vendor’s technology.
The result is that solution providers pay what amounts to a tax that includes not only the cost of the training but also the lost billing time of engineers that are away in training programs. And just to add insult to injury, the odds are good that the people who just received a new certification are going to ask for a raise once they get back to the office.

Some solution providers have tried to deal with this issue by hiring what amounts to professional test takers to get the certifications they need. Solution providers can get away with this approach because the sad truth is that most of the certifications are little more than open-book tests. The result is that employees don’t have to be all that proficient to actually get certified, which only serves to underscore the fact that most certifications are little more than a tax that many companies have come to see as a nice little profit stream for doing next to nothing.

So at the end of the day we’ve got a situation where VARs are incurring costs at a time when margins are already razor-thin so they can acquire certifications that are next to worthless because, outside of maybe a few Global 2000 accounts, none of their customers care about who is expressly certified to do what.

What all this means is that vendors are taking a lazy approach to managing the channel; they’re using a deeply flawed approach to winnowing down the channel by raising costs for their alleged solution provider partners.

This doesn’t mean that we should do away with certifications all together. It just means vendors shouldn’t be making a profit from training people to sell their products.

And perhaps more importantly, vendors need to actually assess the skills of their partners and figure out how many solution providers they need in a region rather than relying on a blunt instrument such as certifications to limit the number of solution providers in the marketplace. If that sounds like more work for the management teams at the vendors, it is. But it’s the 21st century and it’s high time vendors had a more sophisticated approach to managing the channel that does not impose unnecessary costs on their partners.

A few vendors such as SonicWall have taken some steps in the right direction by compensating solution providers with products in return for training. But what really needs to happen is that the training and certification process needs to first become more rigorous and then secondly decoupled from channel management policies. Until that happens, solution providers will continue to unfairly absorb costs that add little or no value to their business at a time when many solution providers are questioning if vendor partners really have their best interests at heart.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Enterprise’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at