It might be hot outside but you still need a SCARF.

The way that buyers buy is changing and it’s making it more difficult to sell. Let us introduce to you, the SCARF model.

There is now an average of 6.8 people involved in every B2B buying decision. For buyers, the additional scrutiny from colleagues means that making changes is becoming risky. Being seen to mess up could lead to a serious loss of credibility. Consequently, many buyers are avoiding taking risks and avoiding interacting with salespeople.

So, how should sales people adapt?

What if there was a simple model that sales people could use that would help them stimulate buyers into taking action?

The SCARF model of behaviour was first published by David Rock in 2008. It’s straight forward and intuitively feels right: a positive emotion or reward creates a stimulus making people act, whereas a negative emotion or punishment causes a threat stimulus, which leads to avoidance.

The theory has obvious applications for leadership- it’s easier to lead a successful team if you understand what drives social behaviour. However; the SCARF model is also powerful when applied to sales- it’s much easier to sell to a buyer if you understand what drives their social behaviour.

Here’s an introduction to the SCARF theory along with some practical ways to apply it to sales.

The very basic function of our brain is to distinguish when to approach something and when to avoid it. We are all motivated to move away from perceived threats and towards perceived rewards. Thousands of years ago that function helped us avoid sabre tooth tigers, today it’s that function that makes us anxious when we hear footsteps behind us late at night.

The model describes five key areas of how we react based on our perceived threats and rewards:

  1. Status: Sense of personal worth.
  2. Certainty: Sense of what the future holds
  3. Autonomy: Sense of control over life
  4. Relatedness: Sense of safety with others
  5. Fairness: Sense of fairness


We are constantly examining interactions with others to assess whether they are going to improve or reduce our status. We will move towards interactions that we think are going to improve our status and we will avoid interactions that we think are going to reduce our status.

This is an opportunity.

Buyers are much likely to engage with salespeople if they feel that there is a likely benefit to their personal status that outweighs the risk of making a bad decision. Does this sales person share industry knowledge that the buyer can use to look good at their next board meeting? Could this relationship lead to an award, or simply a great set of results that they can pin their name to?


A lack of certainty will make some people stressed and limit their ability to make effective, balanced decisions- they could feel overwhelmed.

Sales people need to create certainty by persuading buyers that their solution is going to deliver results. This is about sharing information, testimonials, case studies and stories about past successes with similar businesses.


Autonomy is about how much control we have in a situation. The less autonomy we feel we have, the more we perceive the situation as a threat.

Buyers need to feel that they have a degree of control during the sales-process; if they don’t, they’ll run away. This is all about collaboration. Involve the buyer in creating the solution and make the whole process feel like a partnership.


The human brain is a social machine. The connection that we feel to other people influences our decision making. Creating a strong bond leads to the production of oxytocin, which increases the positive feeling of trust and stabilises relationships.

This is the science behind a sales standard- it’s important to build friendly relationships with buyers that are underpinned by a deep understanding of what they need to achieve and how to get there.


When a person thinks that something is unfair, the brain automatically reacts with the avoid response and goes into a defensive stance.

For salespeople this is about putting together transparent, equitable partnerships.

So, it might be getting harder to sell, and it might be sweltering in the office right now, but please don’t forget your SCARF…

To find out more about the SCARF model, get in touch or follow us on LinkedIn.

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