The Problem With Tech Vendors’ “SMB Specialist” Partner Certification

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).

But SMB customers’ view of “breadth” spans all of those things: hardware, software, network, security, storage/backup, telecom, cloud, smartphones … and more. Tech vendors would benefit from leveraging their alliances to provide a more comprehensive channel partner war chest – and one that reflects SMB customers’ real needs [channel development, meet business development]. Although it doesn’t map to the SMB market per se, the Cisco/EMC/VMware alliance, i.e., the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition, represents this type of channel resource sharing/collaboration. Vendors should look to co-certify, i.e., in conjunction with their technology alliance partners, their SMB channel partners.

Better yet (and easier to coordinate), tech vendors could look to ally with providers of important business services to SMBs, e.g., print services, logistics services, insurance services (Intuit takes this approach of providing both technology and business services, albeit within its own portfolio). For example, the #1 thing on the mind of SMB owners and execs today is financing. Companies like Biz2Credit (http://www.biz2credit.com/) and GrantStation.com (http://www.grantstation.com/) would make excellent partners in meeting not just SMBs’ technology needs, but the “breadth” of their business needs. After all, as a SMB-certified partner, which would you rather be today: a technology solution provider or a business solution provider?

Let me know your thoughts.