Customer’s wish is Xtras’ command

A high-tech market requires high-tech customer communication strategies, or so business-to-business software cataloger Xtras has concluded. Responding to its customers, Xtras eliminated fax broadcasting this year in favor of e-mail newsletters. “This is the way customers have told us they want to be communicated with,” says marketing manager Wendy Hunter. The Atlanta-based cataloger also increased the number of software programs that can be downloaded from its Website and stopped placing lead-generating business reply cards in magazines “because our high-tech market is totally turned off to this alternative,” she adds.

Xtras, which publishes SERVERxtras for Windows/NT systems administrators and VBxtras for Microsoft Visual Basic programmers, changed its strategy after studying data gathered from customers via Web and phone surveys (generating a 10%-12% response). “We’ve learned the size of the company, the type of industry, things like the number of servers and work stations, and the size of network,” Hunter says. Beyond this, Xtras analyzed customer transaction history and tracked the effectiveness of its marketing materials by placing a unique phone number in each medium it used.

Armed with such data, the cataloger determined that many customers prefer to order online and download the applications for instant delivery when possible (some files are too large to download). Since that discovery, “we’ve made the majority of our products downloadable, where just a third were before,” Hunter says. Since it began offering online ordering in April, sales have gone up 60%.

But the popularity of online ordering will not change Xtras’ print catalog mailing strategies, at least not yet. “We’ve found that our customers still want a reference book they can hold in their hands,” says Hunter. “We offer a review of every product, so the catalogs have a long shelf life.” Xtras distributes 450,000 VBxtras and 300,000 SERVERxtras catalogs annually in three drops.

To facilitate other programs it has in the works, such as a customized thank-you program and cross-selling promotions, Xtras plans to install a data warehouse to combine its three databases-one for customer transactions, another for inquirers, and the third for e-mail addresses. The cataloger is also developing an extranet so that the vendors whose products it sells can monitor their sales activity.

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