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Could hosted services spur tension between distributor and partner?

San Diego — Ingram Micro CEO Greg Spierkel faced a funny question from partners at the VentureTech Network (VTN) conference here Thursday morning: “What do we do that drives you crazy?”

Spierkel’s answer?

“Buying from my competitors.”

The response tickled the audience of more than 400 solution providers. But Spierkel said Ingram had worked too hard at supporting partners to be cut out of the picture because of a competitor with a cheaper price. It was the first of many times during the week that Ingram would preach the value-over-price mantra.

Attendees agreed that Ingram’s support can sometimes make it worth overlooking distributors that slash prices. But throughout the week, partners highlighted a larger issue. As their business models change to focus less on pushing product and more on selling managed services, their relationship with Ingram is changing too.

“There is a divergence of needs between Ingram and the partners,” one partner said on condition of anonymity. “My needs are not necessarily those of Ingram’s any more.”

That’s because the partner has decided it is more beneficial to build his own hosted services infrastructure than go with Ingram’s Seismic managed services offering.

Another VTN member said Seismic came a little too late.

“We invested in the technology before Ingram started Seismic and we were a little annoyed,” said Larry Baum, CEO of The Computing Center. “But of all the aggregated programs out there, I think Ingram’s offering is the best.” So The Computing Center offers a “hybrid” of services from its own infrastructure and from Seismic.

Ted Warner, president of Connecting Point and founding VTN member, said it comes down to “are you going to outsource or do your own deal. We do our own thing.” Many long-time VTN members said they have the business processes in place to start offering their own services and be more profitable than they could be through a partnership. Still, Warner stressed that Ingram and fellow VTN members have been fully supportive of that choice.

Many partners have said that newer VARs are more likely to benefit from Seismic, and one newer member of VTN confirmed that “I don’t think I could build up the variety of services that Seismic offers,” he said.

For its part, Ingram pitched Seismic hard all week, including in keynotes and during sessions. Vice president of services Justin Crotty, who runs the managed service program, urged partners “to combat commoditization” by differentiating themselves in ways other than price (namely through services). Then he urged partners that have built their own infrastructure to join Seismic when they are “ready for a refresh” or to add new services.

Whether or not his message stuck will be seen over time.

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