Treating your partners right

I’m spending a few days going through some “virtual lab” FileNet training courses. Although I’ve worked with their BPM software with my own customers for over 10 years, and even worked for FileNet for a brief (but very informative in terms of corporate politics) period, it’s always a good idea to keep on top of the new versions. The virtual labs are a huge improvement over classroom training for me: not that I don’t want a trip to California, but hey, I’m the one paying for it, and I can’t just walk away from my real life for a couple of weeks. These are really well done, too: full classroom materials and notes, lab exercise books, canned (Flash) demos of how to complete the exercises, online access to a FileNet P8 system, and very responsive technical support. Since I already know a great deal of what’s in the course material (I think that I wrote some of it!), I can zip through pretty quickly without being bogged down by newbies in a classroom.

The cost of FileNet — and other vendor — classroom training just doesn’t make sense for the small incremental value that I would get from it: to become certified in a product via classroom training would cost me thousands of dollars in course fees alone, plus travel expenses and lost revenue opportunities. Considering that no single product is more than a small part of my current business, the cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t fly. FileNet has made it hugely attractive to partners to take the virtual lab courses right now, probably because there’s a lot of other partners out there running the same numbers and coming to the same conclusion: for occasional business, and especially for small/one-person shops like me, this stuff is way too expensive. Most of what I do with my customers, even on a FileNet-related gig, has nothing to do with FileNet: I’m a strategic IT planner/architect, so it’s about developing a strategy for selecting and applying technology to business, high-level business process redesign, enterprise architecture and a host of other things. When we do get down to the planning and design of the FileNet-based solution, I need to know portions of the product well, but it’s usually a small part of my engagement and you can be sure that by then, there’ll be people around with the full installation, administration and developer certifications.

For those of us who make it our business to know multiple vendors well and who have been involved in actually implementing (as opposed to just selling) systems, we bring value to our customers not because we’re certified with any particular vendor, but because we understand how the rubber hits the road. In other words, I want all (or most) of the training that I would need to be certified by the vendors, but the vendor certification itself means very little to me or my customers. I’m selling my expertise and experience, not reselling my investment in vendor classroom training.

Message to vendors, #1: Stop trying to make money on partner training: it should be a loss leader and considered a cost of sales development. I have a big problem with paying you thousands of training dollars to give you a knowledgeable player (me) in the field that helps you sell more software, when I’m doing consulting that is often quite peripheral to your product. If I meet the requirements of your partner program, give me your software and train me for free, or for very cheap. That goes for conferences as well: if I’m good enough to be in your partner program, don’t charge me thousands of dollars to attend your partner conference, because by the time that I add my travel expenses and lost revenue for the week, it’s not worth it.

Message to vendors, #2: Plan your certification programs to include people like me, who do strategy, planning and design, but don’t do coding or installs. Although I’ve done it in the past, I’m very unlikely to be writing code or installing systems any time soon. I use the term “BPM solution architect” to describe what I do on a BPM project, but that term has somehow been perverted to mean either a pre-sales technical consultant (by FileNet, for example) or a programmer (by wishful-thinking customers who believe that one person has the experience to do the design and architecture, but still has a low enough price point and is not too rusty to do the coding).

Sure, if you make the training free, then you’ll spend some time fending off people who aren’t serious about your product or even capable of understanding it. However, charging a large fee for training definitely means that you cut out the small, very capable players (because we can do something unrelated to your product equally well), and based on my experience with large, well-funded systems integrators and consultancies, there’s no guarantee that the ability to pay is accompanied by the ability to do something good with your product.

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