NET EFFECT: Is Sensis the new Dell?

NET EFFECT: Is Sensis the new Dell?

Freeway construction companies knew they were onto a good thing with the union of RFID technology and e-tag systems. The idea of speeding through a toll booth at 70kph is cool, but you don’t hand over your credit card details simply because you’re impressed by hearing that reassuring “bleep bleep”.

E-tag systems work because you avoid the hassle of cash, and you get to jump the queue. It’s a marriage between the path of least resistance and a new class of service.

That metaphor can be applied to Telstra subsidiary, Sensis. The media is all abuzz with talk of Sensis’ attack on the advertising and search market captured by Google and Yahoo!

But as Computerworld reported, searching is just the tip of the iceberg. Combine Telstra’s new Kaz and Invizage businesses and suddenly we have an operation that’s worth studying from a channel perspective.

The working plan is that Sensis will offer its 420,000 or so Yellow Pages customers a Chinese menu of IT services. On the table is what IDC predicts will be a small business (1-99 users) IT market place worth $5.2 billion this year, and $6.6 billion by 2008.

But Telstra’s ambitions don’t simply stop at offering competitive IT services. Computerworld also reported that Sensis will roll out e-commerce facilities to those same SME customers.

Put simply, Telstra wants to sell you a Yellow Pages ad, a website, and the e-commerce engine to power the sales machine generated by the business leads it delivers to you from your print and online advertisement.

Sensis wants to charge for the lead generation, the transaction system, and the management services but will graciously let Visa or Mastercard handle the back-end credit transaction.

The idea itself is a master stroke, and one that bodes ill for traditional resellers. Sensis is combining its potential for cross-selling between business units such as Yellow/White pages, with new businesses like the Trading Post, and the emerging search/online advertising model.

With hundreds of telemarketers and creative ideas like these up its sleeve, Sensis could indeed turn out to be the new Dell of the channel. Big companies offering customers the path of least resistance and some form of service guarantee will always represent worthy competition.

Yet resellers can take some comfort from the fact that winning and servicing SME customers is an acquired skill. Can you imagine the reaction to a freshly-trained Sensis telesales rep trying out the old Macca’s up-sell?

Even if plenty of customers take up the offer, I doubt Sensis/Invizage can competently handle the demand.

After all, the great irony of the e-tag system is that as more people sign up, the line of cars gets longer and longer. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s a cash-paying car beating me through the toll booth.

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