SMBs have historically led the way out of recessions – and with the impression in mind that this recovery will prove likewise, tech vendors have been clamoring to roll out new “SMB Specialist” partner certifications. The problem is that most of these SMB certifications are meaningless. The requirement for channel partners to achieve SMB certification in many vendors’ channel programs is that the channel partner has to prove that they have successfully sold to and supported SMB customers. Huh? Sounds like the “chicken and egg” syndrome, doesn’t it?
A few vendors, primarily those with large product portfolios, place the appropriate “breadth” value requirement on their SMB channel partners (as opposed to “depth”, i.e., deep knowledge in one particular technology domain) and require their SMB partners to test on several technology domains, albeit at the “101” (“beginner”) level. Note that most vendors, too, provide no path for their SMB-certified partners to reach their top partner tier (most vendors still reward revenue contribution over everything else), so those partners are at a competitive disadvantage to large channel partners that target both the enterprise and SMB markets.
The problem is vendors’ view of “breadth” with respect to SMB partner certification. Cisco Systems’ view of “breadth” is competency across the network and collaboration domains; Symantec’s is competency across the security spectrum; Microsoft’s is office suite and application software; and HP’s is primarily hardware and IT management (at least until it integrates the 3Com channel program).
There are other definitions floating out there about sales enablement – some are from our competitors, there is a Wikipedia definition, and several vendors in the space are promoting the phase pretty heavily.
So why did we just publish a huge research document on the topic?
Let’s start with how we decided we needed to invest a lot of cycles writing a big report about defining something some could argue was already defined.
In August 2008, we convened our first Sales Enablement Executive roundtable (a roundtable is where I facilitate a group discussion about relevant issues facing our community and drive shared understanding about changes that need to be made moving forward) near Leesburg, Virginia. We assembled a cross-functional team of VP-level executives from sales and marketing roles, representing 16 blue-chip companies like: Accenture, CSC, IBM, CA, Siemens, BMC, etc.
During that session, as a group — we debated, painfully, the definition of sales enablement, which Forrester subsequently reviewed (to gain buy-in) from other roundtables we convened in San Mateo, California and London.
We published our short definition in our Uncovering The Hidden Costs Of Sales Support report in April 2009, where we worked with several CFOs to understand their point of view about managing “cost of sales.”