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Ingram Micro’s Justin Crotty has a strong and surprising message for solution providers: Drop your vendors from your Web sites and marketing materials.

"Services is the key differentiator," says Crotty, who oversees Ingram’s Seismic managed services program. "I’ve told the VARs over the past year to take the vendor authorization off their Web sites. They shouldn’t define themselves by their vendor authorizations."

He added: "All they’re indicating is that they’re just like the tens of thousands of Microsoft, HP and Cisco partners."

Abandoning vendor brands is not a new idea. A handful of solution providers have advocated the promotion of their own brands over their vendor’s brands since they own the customer relationship. Alvaka Networks’ Oli Thordarson has said that the customer—particularly in managed services engagements—only cares about the delivery of services, not the brand of the technologies.

What makes Crotty’s message different is its source. You wouldn’t expect to hear the advice to drop vendor branding from Web sites and marketing material from a senior executive at the largest distributor who is equally dependent upon vendors as it is solution providers for its revenue.

Crotty, though, understands something that many solution providers don’t: end users—especially small and midsize businesses—aren’t making their IT and service purchasing decisions on the flashy brands of the big vendors but solution providers’ technical ability and—frankly—personalities.

Channel dogma holds that the reason vendors sell through solution providers is to reach the end users with which they have a trusted relationship. If that’s true, then it’s solution providers who hold the upper hand in the selling relationship and they truly don’t need the vendor’s endorsement on their marketing. However, solution providers persist in marking themselves with the vendor partners’ marks to prove credibility and support, and capture the marketing drag of a large corporation.

This is a mistake, Crotty says. If a solution provider leads or is too reliant upon its vendor’s brand and, ultimately, its products, the only thing it has to differentiate itself from competitors is price. Likewise, end users will only see a dozen Cisco, Microsoft or IBM partners vying for their business with the same solution, so the only recourse is to seek the lowest price. In that scenario, the vendor and distributor still win because they have a predefined pricing floor; the solution provider is the one who must sacrifice margin to win a deal.

"The reason they’re grinding you down on price is because the only thing in their mind is that’s the only thing that they can differentiate you," Crotty says. "We have a complete inability in this business to market anything but commodity."