Subject matter experts on the CenturyLink and Savvis sides developed the initiative and they continue to adjust to partner feedback. Content and testing is delivered online; there are opportunities for some larger partners to get training at their facilities. At press time, about 300 partners had earned the first level of certification, which is offered at no charge. CenturyLink and Savvis were creating other certification levels at press time. Wetzel aims to certify 1,000 partners by the end of the year. And so far, CenturyLink is not demanding that partners get certified. The caveat is that, if they don’t, there will be products they’ll remain unable to sell. That leads to another point. Right now, CenturyLink Channel Alliance does not plan to increase compensation for partners who achieve certification. But revenue promises to grow indirectly because certification will allow partners to sell products they otherwise would not be able to offer.
EarthLink Business. EarthLink designed its certification in-house, with Cook and Sherry Turpin, vice president of channel strategy, leading the charge. The curriculum covers hosted and IT services, including managed cloud hosting, managed premises firewall, MPLS, email archiving and encryption, data center colocation and a range of virtualization capabilities. It will include several tiers, for which partners will garner additional recognition, introduced over several phases. Higher levels will focus on technology such as VMware, for example. Yet, EarthLink also was talking about compiling a Telecom 101 course for new agents and VARs new to carrier services. EarthLink is most concerned that agents and VARs understand the products involved, their nuances and how to position them with customers.
At press time, EarthLink had not nailed down the delivery method; Cook suspected it would emulate EarthLink’s internal training, which is cloud-based, on-demand, features a timeline of PowerPoint presentations and issues tests that can be taken more than once if participants don’t get enough correct answers. Meanwhile, Cook said EarthLink will gather feedback from partners along the way, so the company can tweak and expand the program.
As for rewards and consequences, EarthLink had not cemented those specifics at press time. However, Cook said, “Do you draw this hard line that says, ‘You can’t sell this service if you don’t do this’? I’m not sure we have that luxury." As a result, EarthLink was eyeing some type of certification mandate but “not so rigid that you’re actually driving people away who want to sell for you," Cook said. The company further was formulating ideas for recognizing partners who set themselves apart with certifications. “I’ve never been a big fan of the hammer that makes people fearful but there’s got to be some type of reward," he said. EarthLink was toying with paying certified partners more money, especially if certification proves to reduce EarthLink’s support costs.
Verizon Enterprise Solutions. As part of a larger partner program overhaul, Verizon’s enterprise division is instituting certification expectations for its agents and VARs. Details of that revamp were planned to be unveiled at the Spring 2013 Channel Partners Conference & Expo; certification is just one of the changes. Like its peers, Verizon is not charging partners for its certification. “That’s my investment to make," said Janet Schijns, vice president, alternate channels and vertical solutions at Verizon Enterprise Solutions.