The majority of IT resellers in any market are small businesses selling technology to other small businesses. As a result, many of the difficulties facing their customers - such as staff management, a lack of marketing skills or not having enough spare capacity to send staff on training courses - can be applied just as accurately to the reseller. With that in mind, Leading Edge's decision to take the bull by the horns and develop a training program for its members should be applauded (see page 1 of ARN, September 21 issue).
ARN has written a clutch of stories in recent weeks looking at training issues and, as always with this sort of debate, there are always two sides to the story.
On one hand, some vendors have expressed understandable frustration at the lack of skills within their certified partner ranks. Novell, for example, would like to have more certified engineers across the country but is struggling to convince resellers they should abandon Microsoft; while Cisco has admitted it needs more qualified partners to help it meet burgeoning demand in the security market.
From a reseller perspective, vendor training is all too often a glorified product push that fails to address essential skills like closing a sale or effectively marketing your business. While the training being proposed by Leading Edge will include vendor sessions, it is the business practice elements that are likely to generate most interest because they are offering something that isn't widely available at the moment.
Because it is a buying group, the Leading Edge training will only be open to its membership. But the model would work equally well in the wider channel and I would suggest it is another value-add that would make a distributor or vendor stand out from its competitors. In an industry where everybody wants to find a differentiator other than cheap prices, helping to improve the business skills of your partners would certainly show a greater level of commitment. This would have two major benefits - resellers would be more loyal to a distributor or vendor that invested in that side of their business and would also be likely to sell more with their new and improved skill sets. While this is a simplistic argument, it is essentially true.
In other news, congratulations should go to Alstom IT for securing a contract with Red Hat (check out page 4). General manager, Greg Newham, suggested it was the biggest addition to its vendor portfolio for a long time and a few of the country's leading distributors would have had their hands in the air for this one - I can remember IT Wholesale general manager, Darryl Tucker, highlighting Red Hat as a target earlier this year as he looked to grow the software side of his business. But the appointment of Alstom is a logical one and it is doing a good job at the moment of building itself into a leading open source distributor, which looks like becoming a valuable differentiator.
Finally for this week, I would like to point you to the roundtable discussion in this week's issue (page 24). Thank you to everybody that took time out of their busy schedules to spend an afternoon discussing the challenges and opportunities facing resellers and integrators selling converged networks into the SMB market. There is a lot to be said for getting together with a group of your peers and knocking around issues that are affecting all of your businesses. Please let me know if there is an area you would like to see us tackle.