Setting the Table for Success

Setting the Table for Success

Time to Read: 5 Min

Tim Sanders

As a financial advisor, you are always in sell mode. To acquire clients, you must convince them to change their wealth management strategy and pick you. To keep them, you need to move them to your advised action and then value your services over alternatives. While many of your clients are attracted to financial results, it is likely you've experienced situations where your advice wasn't followed, even when it was the perfect prescription for the situation. You likely scratched your head, wondering, Why didn't he get it?

The answer comes from social psychology research: Your mind's neural network must be predisposed to respond favorably to your influence attempts. If your mental pump isn't "primed," then even the most persuasive arguments won't be accepted and acted on. In other words, the situation is as important to a person's decision-making as the logic of what's being presented.

Of all the sales professionals I've interviewed for my books, Dan Veitkus may be one of the most well-rounded in his talents. He's been a top performer in the highly competitive software industry and today he sells executive search services to Fortune 500 companies. By well-rounded, I mean that he has both emotional and technical intelligence. "When you move people to action," he told me, "you do it in a particular situation, which must be emotionally designed for acceptance and change." He realized early in his career that you have to set the table for the sale, and not rely on product or pitch alone to win the day. He was conscious of where and when his meetings took place, how his clients were feeling that day and what he could do to "lift their spirits to action."

To create something valuable, you need to think through each stage of its creation, tackling every obstacle along the way.

Time and Place

The context in which you deliver advice is just as important as the content of your message. National events or personal tragedies can distract your clients or, worse, put them in a mental state of confusion. If you've ever tried giving long-term financial advice to someone after a major dip in the stock market, you've witnessed firsthand the impact of timing on decision-making. On the flip side, if you can time your meetings to positive milestones such as someone getting back from their summer vacation or celebrating the holidays, you've likely seen a bump in willingness to listen, believe and act.

Where your conversations take place also determines your ability to influence. If you meet at a crowded and noisy restaurant, you and your client have to overcome numerous distractions to focus on any topic and come to agreement. If your office is dark, cluttered or in a noisy, open workspace setting, you aren't putting your client in in an environment that's conducive to learning. If your consultation happens by mobile phone while both of you are out and about, getting any point across is hit or miss.


  1. Analyze the timing of your client meetings against extenuating circumstances. Be willing to move the meeting if necessary.
  2. Consider where you meet with your client. Find a place where there are few distractions and an environment that lends itself to sound decision-making.
  3. Decorate your office to enhance mood state. Let the sun shine in whenever possible as it directly enhances mood. Bring in fresh flowers as they have been known to elevate positive feelings.

Mood State

When your client's mood is negative, his or her ability to make the right financial decisions suffers dramatically. One study1 at the University of Miami found that when people have a negative mood state, it interferes with their brain's working memory, causing lapses in critical thinking. This jibes with a study I participated in with HeartMath Research Institute2 where we found that mood states trigger chemical flow in our body. Negative moods triggered a release of the stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits our ability to leverage our brain's capacity. Positive moods spurred production of DHEA, an enzyme that's known to enhance our clarity.

The mood state can also influence how your client thinks about investment risk. Researchers at the University of Leeds in the UK found3 that when people are in a negative mood state, they are more likely to take a long-shot gamble in order to reverse their mood. The same research also revealed that when people are in a positive mood state, they are more likely to choose low-risk options in order to maintain or enhance their mood.


  1. Put yourself into a positive mood state prior to meetings. Play music that makes you happy. Focus on people you are grateful for in your personal or professional life. Call your significant other to say "I love you." Watch a humorous video on YouTube (my favorite genre is baby goats). Your positive mood is as contagious as a cold.
  2. Analyze a client meeting with mood state in mind. Don't have him or her drive in rush hour traffic to meet with you. If the client shows up in a bad mood, consider putting off any attempts to influence behavior and, instead, make the meeting informational.
  3. Contribute to your client's positive mood state. Begin the meeting talking about your client's current passion or a topic they brighten up over. Start out account reviews with "what's going right," emphasizing the smart decisions the client has made. Share a funny story or appropriate joke at the top of the meeting. Avoid discussing current events, especially those where there might be divided opinions or strong feelings.

Steve Jobs believed that "design is the constant act of problem solving." In his view, if you want to unleash magic, you must be willing to pay attention to the smallest details. To create something valuable, you need to think through each stage of its creation, tackling every obstacle along the way. Like a designer, think through the emotional experience that your client goes through as he or she considers your advice. Be as holistic as possible: step back from the facts and figures and consider the surrounding environment. By putting yourself in their shoes, you'll discover new ways to improve your ability to help them help themselves financially.

1The Impact of Negative Mood on Cognitive Control, Joshua Rooks, University of Miami, Florida

2Cardiac coherence, self-regulation, autonomic stability, and psychosocial well-being, Rollin McCraty, Maria Zaya, Institute of HeartMath, Boulder Creek, CA.

3Effects of negative mood states on risk in everyday decision making G. Robert J. Hockey, A. John Maule, Peter J. Clough, Larissa Bdzola, University of Leeds, UK.

Tim Sanders

Author and expert on motivation, emotional talent and sales innovation

Tim is the author of five books including the New York Times bestseller Love Is the Killer App: How to win Business & Influence Friends. Tim was the Chief Solutions Officer for Yahoo, as well as their Leadership Coach.

View all articles by Tim »

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors. Hartford Funds Distributors, LLC.


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