Of interest is that no respondent checked reasons — from the cost/time involved or the lack of necessity — they might not support certification. The lack of detractors in this informal poll seems to show that agents will embrace certification. Anecdotally, two master agents told Channel Partners on background they will do their part to ensure agents get certified. Their salespeople then will have greater selling power, one master said. “I think if [providers] put a little oomph behind certification, it gives the agent the ability to put on their card that they’ve gone through something, gone through an education process and know what they’re talking about."
Of course, that remains the unknown. Do service providers’ certifications merely reflect their existing training or do they contain more meat? That question is difficult to answer without greater visibility into the curricula so, agents, keep an eye out for these factors:
- Did the provider invest a significant or substantial amount of money and time in creating the certification?
- Did subject matter experts and credentialing experts craft the program?
- Does the curriculum surpass existing training and product description materials?
If the answers to those questions are “yes," sources say, then the programs are worth pursuing. Besides, providers offering certifications are going to be scrutinizing agents, too. These carriers “have more of a VAR mentality," said TCA’s Wallace. In other words, they’re becoming less willing to pay their channel managers and sales engineers to spend time on declining-margin circuit services. Verizon serves as a prime model of this. While a partner works toward certification, the operator will continue to dedicate a sales engineering team to that partner. But afterward, the company expects its more knowledgeable agents to take over the sales engineering role. Verizon still will keep its sales engineers available to partners but the idea is to cut down reliance on those internal resources. To be sure, preventing work overload on sales engineers is a byproduct of certification for EarthLink, Cook said; the trend also can justify additional partner commission expense, he said. MSPAlliance’s Weaver said this philosophy is common, that all channel-centric suppliers “absolutely" aim to alleviate burden on their staff.
Third-party efforts by TCA and others before it notwithstanding, provider-driven certification promises to elevate a demographic within the indirect channel that has gone for years without some kind of sales acumen gauge. The timing may finally be right. Telecom services have grown complicated and at last, after years of forecasts, converged with the IT world. As such, certification appears inevitable. “It will be a major disruptor and rightfully so," said Weaver. “The old model of doing things in the dark, without peer review, without transparency, is coming to an end." And so, the time has arrived for service providers to deploy certification, Schijns said. “This is the minute that matters," she said. “This is the year."