Time and again, companies report that once a database is up and running, sales grow at least 10% to 30% as a result. But you can't exactly create one at the snap of a finger. What to do? Delegate building the database to an unencumbered new employee or farm it out to an independent contractor.

Case in point: At Dia, a high-fashion sweater company based in Vergennes, Vt., sales reached $1 million in 1995 and stalled. So when the founders hired John Leehman as CEO to move Dia to the next level, he worked with a software consultant for six months to design the company's database. Leehman estimates the cost of the database at a mere $5,000--including the consultant's time.

Using the database, he identified five independent sales representatives (out of 11) who were really growing the business. By giving them additional data about their respective territories, the database enabled them to increase their sales by an average of 50%. This propelled the company to more than $4 million in sales in 1997. "This database," says Leehman, "has been the single biggest contributor to the company's growth."