By 1986, after 16 years in business, Susan Bowen, CEO of Champion Awards Inc., a $7-million screen printer in Memphis, was tired of dickering with bankers. Her solution was to treat banking business like any major business purchase: put it out to bid. Bowen sent a package to four banks detailing her business's financial history, outlook, and banking needs. She closed her cover letter with "The best bid wins."

The result? A more generous line of credit, better interest rates on long-term loans, and a surge in her banker's competitive spirit. When her banking package went out for bids in 1988, her current bank kept her business by meeting another banker's lower bid.