The Great Balancing Act: Investing In Non-Technical Skills


Technology vendors, by virtue of their size, have a tremendous internal wealth of management knowledge and know-how. At times, the investment in human resources, recruiting and hiring, marketing, compensation, leadership and sales methodology policy, processes and training may seem mundane compared to the speed and need of the core technology R&D, sales and marketing tasks required to achieve a strong quarterly earnings call.

There are solution providers around us every day who value this recruiting, hiring, compensation and expertise. Some time ago, I saw a hardware vendor go through the internal management and legal machinations to offer solution providers access to resumes of excellent candidates that the hardware vendor was unable to hire.

We've all been there as field sales leaders or channel chiefs. We've had more great resumes and candidates than the head count we could afford to hire. The hardware vendor, acting on this imbalance, initiated processes to make these resumes available to critical solution providers who had a need to hire. The result—a win for the hardware vendor in increasing solution provider sales or technical skill, a win for the solution provider in gaining access to appropriate talent, and a win for the employee finding a way into the hardware vendor's ecosystem.

[Related: Are Vendors Becoming The New Service Providers?]

Years ago, I saw a major software vendor invest in core sales skills assessments for solution providers to help those partners increase their selling skills. These were not product-specific sales skills; the skills built included sales process and sales characteristics without regard to product or solution sold. The result was solution providers not only used the sales assessments for their current sales staff but also started to use the sales assessments to screen prospective hires, catching hiring errors before they were made: a win for the software vendor and solution provider in a more capable sales force, but also for the sales staff who participated in the sales characteristics assessments in that the follow-on training was targeted to their specific needs.

Small-business solution providers (companies with less than $100 million in annual revenues) are eager to gain access to even a fraction of the leadership, sales training or recruiting infrastructure we, as vendors, have taken for granted for many years. Most vendors, however, indicate a desire to avoid training non-product skills to a sales force that is not dedicated to their products. Personally, I believe it's a chicken-and-egg situation. If a vendor is willing to forward-invest in non-product-based skills, whether that includes generic sales and marketing "know-how," solution providers recognize a vendor willing to make an investment in their company. The result typically includes greater solution-provider loyalty to that vendor. Is that a vendor guarantee? Never. However, eight out of 10 times, I'd bet the solution provider recognizes which vendor is willing to co-invest in the success of his company.

The 2013 IPED Vendor Benchmark study showed the typical hardware, software or service provider vendor delivered product-specific sales training to 2,143 solution provider individuals in 2012, 60 percent of which was delivered online. At the same time, that same typical vendor trained only 272 solution providers to transform their businesses to deal with the new IT-managed-cloud-voice-data-converged ecosystem. Today's converged, complex technology solutions require partners to change sales staffing or compensation programs, perhaps for the first time.

I have to ask why more vendors aren't making these investments, at least for solution providers critical to their future?

BackTalk: Rauline Ochs, SVP, IPED, writes a monthly opinion column for CRN.com. You can reach her via email at rauline.ochs@ubm.com.