One-to-one relationship selling is the oldest game around, but if you're not working it in conjunction with a well-maintained customer database, opportunities are slipping by.

Silverman's, a men's-apparel chain in North and South Dakota, has a close enough relationship with customers that its databaseis filled with up-to-date information about individual shoppers' sizes, buying habits, and preferences--even products they triedon and didn't buy. Salespeople use the information to help friends buy gifts and to follow up on big sales; a self-generatedcomputer report two weeks after the sale reminds the salesperson to call and check that everything is satisfactory. "Mostcustomers would rather stop shopping at a store than take the trouble to complain," says third-generation clothier Stephen M.Silverman.

The marketing department uses the database to target its efforts. It produces a simple postcard announcing the arrival of, forinstance, bathrobes made by a prominent designer. The computer selects customers who have previously purchased thedesigner's merchandise and have not purchased bathrobes in the past year. Silverman says that such targeted mailings typicallyelicit a 25% response rate in four weeks for his business—and that's with no discount.