Billing itself as the Expedia for telecom deals, wiresurfer.com online marketplace launched Monday at DEMO to provide small and medium businesses with an easy way to research telecom providers and their promotions as well as order services from national carriers for free.
While the launch may be empowering businesses with unprecedented comparison shopping options, it's also an example of a sales model that's disruptive to the indirect sales channel, which historically has been successful selling and serving SMBs.
No one knows this better than wiresurfer co-founder and CEO Jeff Kaufman, who has spent the past 11 years as founder and CEO for a traditional telecom agency, Linwood Communications Inc., Parkland, Fla.
"It's no secret that what we are launching is disruptive to the independent agent today," Kaufman said in an interview with Channel Partners. "If you're a traditional agent, especially a transactional agent, I do believe this is where SMB customers are going to migrate. This is more efficient and helpful."
Linwood isn't projecting doom and gloom for all telecom agents. His own agency will continue to operate business as usual, targeting large enterprises with more sophisticated offers, including spend management, call centers and virtual private data centers.
But for the SMB market, he argued, the time has come for telecom sales to go online.
"The 'eureka!' I had in operating in this space for a long time was there are a couple of big problems that have not been solved simply, elegantly or at all," said Kaufman. He explained: "One is that there is no one place to source all carrier offers, promotions and deals; two, many customers are predisposed to go to the Web to look for solutions or services; three, many customers may not realize there is a provider (e.g., a small CLEC or hosted VoIP provider) in their geographic area that will meet their needs.
Plus there is no way to make an apples-to-apples comparison based on a review of telco marketing materials, added Michael Fallmer, Kaufman's partner in wiresurfer.com.
Using wiresurfer, SMBs can compare the offerings from national carriers including AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast Business Services, EarthLink, InterCall, tw telecom, Windstream and XO Communications. wiresurfer expects to add additional service providers to its network. Services available today include wireline voice; wireless voice and data; VoIP; Internet/broadband data, including cable and DSL; colocation hosting; audio and Web conferencing; and cloud-based solutions.
Shoppers who have questions or would like to order can call wiresurfer's call center, located at headquarters in Coral Springs, Fla., and staffed by four experienced telecom reps. Self-service ordering is expected to be added later; it can be done today, but Kaufmann said suppliers aren't quite ready but have indicated it's on their road maps – at least for "plain vanilla" services targeted at SMBs.
Kaufman concedes there is nothing stopping shoppers from calling carriers directly, but he believes that many SMBs will need a consultation with an expert to make a purchase decision.
Like other agents, the service is free to the buyer; wiresurfer is paid a commission for orders from its suppliers.