Landing a new client is a great feeling, isn't it?

You might celebrate with your team, especially if the acquisition is a "big fish;" one you've been chasing and hoped to lock down.

You know what sucks, though? When you accidentally poison the new client relationship from the start.

This can happen before the ink is even dry--before you even have the client committed, in fact.

Make sure you're not making one of these client on-boarding mistakes that can taint the relationship from start to finish and sabotage your firm's chance at making the client a happy one.

1. Overpromising/Setting Unrealistic Expectations

It's better to under-promise and over-deliver.

This is a dangerously easy mistake to make. If your sales team aren't perfectly and 100% aware of what your service team can deliver, they may make promises you just can't keep. An overzealous person caught up in the moment, trying to close the deal, can overpromise and set the whole team up to fail.

It's important to have checks and balances in your acquisition strategy. Never let one single person own the prospective client negotiation. The work will need to be completed as a team, so the acquisition process should be a team effort, as well. If there are technical questions sales are comfortable answering, they need to be comfortable and empowered to approach other departments to get the right answers.

Having to say no or find an alternative solution is easier before an undeliverable promise is made.

2. Failure to Communicate

Is there anything more annoying to a client than not being able to reach a company when you need them?

If prospects are having trouble getting in touch before the deal is even signed or as they're trying to get to know their way around the new relationship, it's a very bad sign for their future with your company. In fact, it may kill the deal altogether.

In the age of digital, people expect near-instant responses to their questions and concerns. Show prospects just how attentive you are throughout their dealings with you, beginning with prompt, courteous communications throughout the onboarding process. Don't rely on self-help documents, videos, etc.

Lay out a communication plan that enables the client to reach you in whatever way is best depending on the time-sensitivity and nature of the inquiry.

3. Undervaluing Your Work

You're going to meet tough negotiators in business. Protect your company from committing to losing deals by knowing the value of your work.

It's tempting to offer a discount or some kind of incentive to get a new client on board. However, you can get stuck in a rut where a client expects an unsustainable rate, if you've been overly generous to get them to sign.

Know your bottom dollar. If you're offering incentives, be sure they pay for themselves over the life of the client relationship. Don't give away the farm to get a client you then can't afford to work for.

4. Understating/Failing to Account for Risk

What's the worst thing that could happen in your relationship with this new client--and are you prepared for it?

Good contracts account for a number of contingencies.

  • We're doing this for you for $XXXX rate--but if ABC happens, the additional rate is $XXX.
  • These five things (list) are beyond our control and therefore we cannot be held responsible for any damage/liabilities, etc.
  • Outcome B is dependent on the occurrence of X, Y, Z factors.

Spell it all out. It's better to take extra time in the contract writing and review phase than to realize during on-boarding or partway through a contract that you didn't account for a risk factor that could now ruin the relationship--or cost you big time.

5. Being Vague

What is it--exactly--that you are going to do for this client? It's critical that each party has a crystal clear understanding of the goals, deliverables and pricing.

What does the successful outcome of the project or specific tasks look like? How and when will you measure and report successes to the client?

Be clear and specific. During onboarding, your client should get a clear picture of what their experience with your company is going to look and feel like.

There are potential pitfalls throughout the onboarding process. Plan well and communicate often to ensure everyone on your team, as well as the relevant persons on the client's team, know their role in the relationship. You can prevent most relationship-killing errors by simply recognizing the risk and preparing for it!

Published on: Jul 22, 2014
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.