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February 2020
Tim Sanders

Prospects, Clients and the Likeability Factor

One of your biggest challenges with potential clients is getting them to pay attention to what you say, believe it enough to act on it, and ultimately value you over other alternatives.

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.

There's a longstanding belief in comedy circles: If the audience doesn't like you, they won't laugh at your jokes. This is why it's so important for comedians to establish rapport with the audience right away. Much like a joke-slinger, financial advisors must first be liked by prospects if they want them to find them credible enough to trust their future with.

In my second book, The Likeability Factor, I reveal insights gathered from thousands of pages of research and hundreds of personal interviews. The key finding: When you deliver emotional benefits to others, they respond by liking you, which leads them to look for ways to spend more time with you. That's why I believe the L-Factor is the key to business development.

One of your biggest challenges with potential clients is getting them to pay attention to what you say, believe it enough to act on it, and ultimately value you over other alternatives. To overcome that challenge you have to break through a dense filter in the prospect's brain that disregards most influence attempts to avoid information overload. This theory was developed by researcher Donald Broadbent at Cambridge University. He found that humans put most of all incoming information on hold and will only process it when it's deemed important, which usually happens when there is an emotional connection with its source. Here's the takeaway: The shortest distance between two people is a warm connection. 

Here's another way to think about it: When someone likes you, it opens up the channels of communication. Not only do they listen and believe more, they trust you enough to share closely held information, enabling you to find the pain point which establishes the urgency for them to hire you. That was the finding from our research for the book, which found that sales professionals with high L-Factor outperformed their less likeable colleagues by double digits.

The best news here is that likeability is a capacity that we can build up through self-awareness and technique. There are four key elements to the likeable personality which are established chronologically: Friendliness, Relevance, Empathy, and Realness. And in each case, you can greatly improve.



While all of us think of ourselves as friendly, I've found that others only perceive it if you send the right signals. The key message you must convey is "I like you." That's what opens the door to the rest of the prospecting process. Most of the signals we send others are visual, not verbal, so making eye contact and smiling is important. Pay attention to your body language, avoiding crossed arms. An open palm is much friendlier than a pointed finger when it's time for you to challenge a misguided investing perception or overcome an objection. When you discover something smart, admirable or kindred about your prospect, specifically point it out, letting him or her know "I like that!"



Relevance is all about building bridges between people. One of the best ways to do that is to ask prospects about their passions and personal interests. This may lead to them revealing a hobby that you also have an interest in, which can spark a personal connection. When you embrace someone's passion, you deliver a powerful psychological benefit: Validation. Your prospect who still collects stamps will be delighted to hear that you've had an interest in that as well or even if you have a loose connection, such as collecting coins or baseball cards. You can also build relevance finding a pain point that one of your services can squarely address.


You can demonstrate empathy by listening deeply and plumbing for the feelings behind others' statements and then treating them as facts. When a prospect reveals that he or she is overwhelmed with the complexity of the markets, don't dive in with your promise to solve the issue. Instead, employ this powerful command: "Tell me more!" This keeps the conversation moving forward, revealing more key details to you for later.

Finally, when others reveal negative emotions to you, never say, "But you shouldn't feel this way because …." Instead, treat their feelings as facts. Saying "I can only imagine how you feel" delivers one of the strongest emotional gifts you'll ever give another person who's going through a struggle.



To establish your authenticity, first and foremost, be present during your meetings or phone calls. My team's research found that "easily distracted" was a key reason that many prospects didn't find a salesperson (or manager) authentic. Leave your smart phone in your car or turn it off prior to a meeting. On phone calls, get away from your computer or any other distractions. Another research finding: Promise keeping is key to realness. During the sales process, document every promise you make, schedule delivery dates and never let one slip between the cracks.

It's easy to focus on your credentials or your firm's ability to generate long-term financial benefits when talking to prospects, but that may not be the right relationship-building approach early on. No doubt, you must make these points, but don't confuse establishing credibility with building a relationship with a prospect. Later in the process, when they've become clients, you will shift your strategy to demonstrating your value and generating loyalty through consistent results. But throughout the entire client lifecycle never forget this old saying: "Long after they forget what you did for them, they will remember how you made them feel."


Key Takeaways

  • Likeability is the most important component of building rapport with prospects and clients. Having an emotional connection, not just a transactional relationship, can improve your business development efforts.
  • You can become more likeable by being intentional in your interactions with prospects and clients: Be friendlier by making sure you're making eye contact and sending signals that you like them. Be more relevant to them by demonstrating connections between their passions and your own. Be more empathetic, treat their emotional responses as facts and ask them "tell me more." And lastly, be authentic by focusing on them when you're together, and don't be distracted by your phone, computer, or others.


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 is not responsible for, and does not validate, any information, opinions, assertions, or statements expressed within these articles, or the identity or credentials of the individuals communicating through the site. Some of the articles may contain links to information created and maintained by other, unaffiliated organizations and individuals. Hartford Funds does not control, cannot guarantee, and is not responsible for the completeness, accuracy, timeliness, or the continued availability or existence of this outside information or the information presented herein. This material is intended for use by financial professionals or in conjunction with the advice of a financial professional.