a/d trends: E-Commerce Drives Need for Knowledge

Software development industry is a frontier-style industry without regulation and organization where demand far outstrips supply. Therefore, arguing against certification, in theory, is pointless.

Certification is not new to the industry, companies such as Novell and Microsoft have popularized the notion years ago. But, it has hit the AS/400 market hard this year, mainly because it’s part of any business partner's or remarketer’s authorization to sell AS/400s. The depth and breadth of certification in a business partner organization will also impact the discount and support levels available to the remarketer. This will clearly receive attention in 1999.

Something that caught my attention recently was a study commissioned by General Motors, which concluded that the primary catalyst for sales growth in automotive is training of sales professionals. How is that? It's because the most notable impact of the Internet and e-business on car sales is that the average consumer is more informed about the vehicle in question than the sales representative.

It's not just raw "feeds and speeds" such as cubic inch and horsepower – it’s the breadth and depth of consumers information. Buyers have a thorough understanding of consumer reports, product weaknesses, price comparisons, lease options. These highly-informed customers expect a sales experience far removed from high pressure haggle dealing of the past. They are looking for a transportation solution. Auto sales professionals now heed far broader sales skills that include significant knowledge of the product.

These changes are being driven by the rise in e-commerce. If a customer wanted to place an order for a car – they could do just that on the Internet. Thus, if the customer wants something more in the sales experience, you had better offer it.

The IT sales professional has this problem in spades. This will likely polarize the selling styles associated with IT in the same way as it has with other products, such as cars.

Selling style number one is commoditization. If the consumer knows exactly what they want, then your job is to cut overheads and take their order. Ultimately, you’ll just do that via e-commerce. No human intervention is required, therefore no salesperson job. Likely, your business success in selling the product will be directly related to its price. Does this sound like the AS/400 market to you? Not to me. In the AS/400 we deal with a very real concept of "value add".

Selling style two is value add. This means the sales process must apply a significant level of value to the customer – transforming a set of hardware, software and service components into real working solutions for the customer. This is the cornerstone of the business partner certification program.

Many students of the various Shark Camp classes we have commented that the test is "hard" or "too hard". "Hard", to me, can mean that the test requires excessive level of technical detail (i.e. "depth"). However, having taken the exam numerous times and working with the IBM certification teams in Rochester all I can say is: what makes the exam "hard" is not necessarily the depth of information, rather the breadth or scope of information required.

This makes good sense. To provide a solution to the customer, the AS/400 representative must know far more than model numbers, and feeds and speeds. The representative needs to understand more than just JAVA or Domino. The customer is looking for a solution not nuts and bolts. The solution spans Hardware, IO, Operating systems, enabling technologies, architecture, understanding LAN/WAN topologies, competition, business casing, application/vertical skills, services, maintenance and financing.

Visit http://www.IBM.com/Education/certify/tests/obj159.phtmlto view an exam. This test covers an extremely broad range of topics and this is what makes the test "hard".

If you want to become certified as a technical professional (SE) look at

http://www.ibm.com/Education/certify/tests/obj361.phtml. The requirements are not quite as broad, but they are certainly deeper in terms of technical understanding.

My take is that to be successful in selling AS/400 solutions, sales and technical professional need to increase their breadth of IT understanding. What differentiates people from there is their depths of understanding various facets of the individual disciplines. This is exactly how the certification program lines up.

Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market. mbuchner@astech.com.