How to properly onboard a new customer

Sales - Rick Davis

There is an old saying that, “you only get a last chance to make a first impression.” Truer words were never spoken when it comes to the process of onboarding a new customer. If you don’t make the customer excited about the start of the relationship, you may struggle throughout the relationship, if you keep it at all.


An LBM dealer in the Midwest shared the story of a customer who apologized for having to buy from a competing lumberyard. In itself, that was a powerful sign of the builder’s loyalty. Nevertheless, it’s always uncomfortable when your customer tests the services of a competitor.

The competing dealer had earned the business by providing a valuable lead to the builder who, naturally, felt compelled to honor the gesture by purchasing from them. For the competing dealer, it was the chance to make a great first impression and earn more business from the builder.

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It didn’t go well and there were several problems on the job. The first delivery was incomplete, and the quality of the drop was below expectations. Resolution to problems was slow and, needless to say, the first order hurt the competing dealer’s reputation, cost them the relationship, and solidified the position for my client.

There are several learning lessons to take from the story about onboarding a new customer.

1.  Sweat the order details early

The first order you take from a new client is not supposed to be like the rest. The sales representative should discuss the order in detail with the client and teammates before it is placed. Bring your staff and the buyer’s staff together to plan the first transaction. Arrange meetings as necessary with labor crews, subcontractors, purchasing agents, owners, and anyone else involved in the process. You’re not bringing products to a jobsite; you’re bringing two teams together to introduce new scheduling, delivery and communication practices. Eliminate surprises. The first order cannot be “business as usual” because your client doesn’t know what usual is…yet.

2.  Greet the first order at the jobsite

The top salespeople I meet in any market assured me they will be on site to meet an initial order. Average salespeople argue they want to avoid creating false expectations by establishing a practice they can’t fulfill on future orders. Nonsense! Everyone wants to make a unique and special impression on a first date and it should be the same for a first order. If things are delivered right, you accept the praise for a job done well. If not, then you are on the spot to quickly resolve any problems. The first order must go off as smoothly as possible because you haven’t earned the second order…yet.

3.  Validate success

One of the most powerful, and overlooked, presentation skills is one I call the “Validating Presentation.” This is the proactive dialogue a salesperson should schedule after an order  or  task is complete  to  ensure client satisfaction or, if necessary, get valuable feedback. Never say, “It was no big deal to help or go the extra mile,” or, “It’s just my job.” If the job goes perfectly, then brag. Always let the customer know you are working hard to make doing business with you a great experience. Validate the quality of your performance because you haven’t built the loyalty you want in the relationship…yet.

This case study offered three valuable lessons that you can implement when onboarding new customers. First, onboarding a new client requires special attention to ensure that your first order is not your last order. Second, buyers resist change and are loyal to competent dealers. Lastly, don’t take the relationship for granted. Looking back at the example from the opening of this column, the new dealer did a great job by delivering a valuable sales lead to the builder but, luckily for my client, dropped the ball on the first order. Selling is more than earning the business; it’s planning a strategy to keep the business after the first order…and well into the relationship.

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