The success of a training curriculum for your channel partners is closely tied to the subsequent certification programs. Certification assures you that training has been completed properly and helps you monitor the training levels for your various channel partners. Certification is your way of knowing that these partners are fully prepared to sell and support your products, and what they may need to learn in order to improve their performance. Certification generally has a start and expiration date, and may be renewed from time to time.
Since your dealers, distributors and resellers may consist of group that is diverse in location, level of engagement and expertise, it is important that you’re using a system that can easily track the certifications. A cloud-based partner relationship management (PRM) system is recommended for monitoring training and certification.
Types of Certification
Certification can be a fairly simple process and consist of just one tier or it can be a multi-level progression that recognizes increasing levels of learning and expertise. If you have low level of engagement with your channel partners, it’s probably best to go with a single-tier program, one that is clean and straightforward. Because of your limited level of communication with these partners, anything more complex may prove to be challenging, in terms of participation and results.
Most certification programs, however, are multi-tiered, starting with the basics and evolving to a highly-skilled level. A typical arrangement is three tiers for sales and up to five for service (which may require a more hands-on approach). Each level can also contain several tracks, based on different aspects of the training (rather than skill levels). For example, a Level 1 sales certification program might include a product features track, a skills track and an industry track. This simplifies the certification process for the partner, allowing him or her to focus on one specific industry feature at a time.
In our example above, the three basic levels of certification could be implemented as follows:
- Level 1 (Basic)
This level would be administered to virtually all of your channel partners who have participated in a training program. It is typically web-based, making it easier and more cost-effective to distribute.
- Level 2 (Intermediate)
Since this group includes channel partners who are more engaged, a combination of instructor-led training (ILT) and web-based training (WBT) has proven to be effective. For service techs, the hands-on instruction is extremely important. For salespeople, the real-world performance metrics tend to be valuable learning experiences.
- Level 3 (Advanced)
This advanced level would consist of mentoring through one-on-one sessions and performance reviews. Partners with advanced certifications are used to teach, coach and mentor others at lower levels.
Motivation for Certification: The Carrot and the Stick
There are two basic strategies for motivating channel partners to move forward with certification. We call them “the carrot” (positive reinforcement) and “the stick” (negative reinforcement).
- The Carrot. When using the “carrot,” partners are recognized and acknowledged for achieving certain levels of certification. A diploma or plaque may be given, or the rewards may be more tangible. Some companies provide gift redemptions and other forms of compensation. In many cases, pay scales are linked to certification levels. When earning a certification translates into a larger paycheck, it can be a very strong motivator.
- The Stick. With this type of approach, the partner can avoid certain negative outcomes by successfully completing certification. For example, a technician might need to be certified to perform specific repairs, and a violation could result in the voiding of a warranty reimbursement. Or a partner contact might require a certain level of certification as a term of employment or compensation level. The lack of certification could mean a lower salary or even termination.
However you structure your training and certification programs, using the right software system is critical for success.