Wake-Up Call: 5 Solution Provider Nightmares

Solution Providers Face Roadblocks

Large systems integrators as well as small regional resellers face a litany of hurdles keeping them from maintaining a successfully growing business. CRN recently sat down with four solution provider executives and one distribution executive at the Palo Alto Networks Ignite network security user conference in Las Vegas to learn about the biggest challenges ahead. From retaining valued employees to managing poorly executed vendor training programs, keeping the momentum going isn’t easy. Here are five of the biggest roadblocks to growth.

Lack Of Skilled Engineers

Employee retention in the security space is a critical part of the business for J.D. Butt, vice president of solutions at Nexum. Traditionally, Nexum hasn't had a turnover problem in its organization, Butt said, but companies need to reward valued, skilled employees with salary increases and other incentives. "It's impossible to find good people. Our No. 1 limiting growth factor is our ability to find and hire engineers," Butt said.

The dearth of skilled engineers is a serious challenge in many technology areas, said Adam Mansour, CTO of network and information security consultancy Spyders. It's been increasingly difficult to recruit skilled talent that have the right network, data center and security certifications, Mansour said.

Keeping Employees Motivated

It’s hard to make sure employees don’t fall into a rut, said Louise Cooke, strategic partner executive at Accuvant. People move into different roles and can move throughout the country. In the past the trend in the industry was to move from a systems integrator to a vendor's sales engineering team. Today, the trend is reversed with almost 75 percent of engineers coming from the technology vendor to a systems integrator.

"You have to educate them, make sure their comp plan is tied to the sales so they are motivated that way, especially from a presale perspective," Cooke said.

Choosing The Right Vendor Partner

Solution providers looking to build out their practice need to look at technology alliances between manufacturers and seek out channel-friendly vendors, said Andrew Warren, vice president of security solutions at distributor Westcon Group. There's no reason to partner with a company that relies heavily on a direct approach. Solution providers end up competing directly with the manufacturer, he said.

"The technology might be fantastic but how a manufacturer plays in the channel today is important from our perspective," Warren said. "If I am going to do some marketing out to our integrator base about a new technology, I want to make sure they are a channel company and are committed to the channel."

The Certification Challenge

With a lot of manufacturers, certifications are a check box, the solution providers said. Beyond obtaining the necessary certifications, sales and technical engineers need to know exactly what problem the product is trying to solve and how it fits into the broader picture, said Justin Flynn, chief consultant on secure mobility at Burwood Group. The sales and technical teams need to deliver a strong message.

"Just taking an exam, passing the certs and getting that check box doesn't mean you know what a product does," Flynn said. "The sales team needs to know a product's relevancy and needs to deliver the right message to the client."

Training Needs Multiple Outlets

The training delivery mechanism has to appeal to a wide range of sales and technical engineers, the solution providers said. Some businesses do training well, while others have problems delivering the right message to employees at key partners when new products go to market, they said.

When a manufacturer moves away from its core business to a different area, such as moving from networking security to endpoint security, it involves a great deal of training with another set of sales and technical people, said Accuvant's Cooke. It's a whole cycle of training, not just an hourlong webinar, she said.