Rented Certifications: What’s That About?

There’s a series of TV commercials in which people are confidently doing some skilled, professional task and then admit they’re not really experts, but they did sleep in this particular hotel last night. That theme came to mind when I read Brad Reese’s blog about a company that’s offering to match channel partners with certified personnel (CCIE, CCNP, etc.) – not for hiring them -- but for renting their badge so they can appear on paper to be more skilled than they really are. The whole premise ties into a Cisco sales model that compensates channel partners based primarily on maintaining trained personnel and high customer satisfaction scores. Rented certifications would be a means of getting around those values. I was thinking maybe this concept doesn’t go far enough. After all, why limit it to IT? Wouldn’t it be great to lay in an ambulance and hear the guy say, “I’m not really a paramedic, but I had a beer with one last week and rented his badge because it was a lot cheaper than knowing what I’m doing.” Or, I personally know a CPA who isn’t using his license right now. Next April, I could probably rent his certification and slam through your taxes in an hour and a half. I’ll just charge you a low rate plus whatever it costs to change my phone number on April 16th. Don’t thank me; I’m just thinking of you. Or how about the guy who walks out of the house-of-ill-repute and learns that the practitioner was…..umm……okay, forget about that one! Just hang on to those three while I tell you a little about how this rented certification opportunity came to be. Several years ago, Cisco had a typical volume-based sales model. The more product you sold, the better your discounts became, and, hopefully, the more successful you were. Volume-based sales models are really great for things like pencils, bundles of tube socks from Wal-Mart, or even automobiles. The common denominator is that once you choose the product based on your needs (or foot size), it’s ready to go. You don’t have to integrate it specifically to your writing paper, your shoe, or your garage. Networking products are obviously a different story. Making them work properly is heavily dependent on what’s traveling over them and what’s in place around them. But the old Cisco model was based on how fast you could push boxes. Skilled integration and satisfied customers had very little to do with how the channel partners got paid, so long as the partners kept moving those boxes. It all hit the fan when the volume-based model pushed margins so low that the only way to make money was to undercut a sale-in-progress where another partner had already designed the upgrade. In short, the people who were doing the most to help the customer had the least opportunity to get the deal. By undercutting price, competitors could make that quick score and get out of there before the customer realizes he’s going to be left high-and-dry in terms of optimization and support. “Here’s your box. See the pretty LEDs? It works. I’m outta here.” Thus, the customer saved a few dollars on the front end, and lost a lot more on the back end because there was no longer an available product sale through which to negotiate a decent deal for services. Under the old plan, the money was found in quick hits, not customer satisfaction. So Cisco abandoned volume-based sales in favor of a model tied primarily to the channel partner’s investment in trained personnel and high customer satisfaction scores. In essence, partners who invest in training and keep their customers happy have clear competitive advantages against the ones who don’t. The program is complex and it’s not an inexpensive game for partners to play. But it helps to keep skilled partners in business and ensures value to the customer, which is important to the long-term health of Cisco, its partners, and its customers. The program has also been emulated by a number of other companies in recent years. The concept of rented certifications would roll back the clock and help people reap the rewards of skilled practitioners without having to actually become skilled practitioners. It’s like dispensing medical advice because you’re a doctor on TV – but it’s even better, because you don’t even have to tell anybody you’re just a pretender. After all, it’s not that you have the expertise; you just know somebody who does. My colleague, Brad, asked a rhetorical question of whether rented certs are good news or bad news. But even for the few partners who might think it’s a good idea, I see one hidden cost. You might need to pay somebody to sit in the car and start the engine when they see you running out the client’s door.

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