Unlocking your Social Brain to Grow Sales

By Magda Voigt

Posted in Psychology

How can we increase our social awareness to interact with others in a more efficient, inspirational and influential way?

In today’s interconnected world, collaborating well with other people is an increasingly important skill. One way of thinking about our social interactions is to use the SCARF Model, which can help us make those interactions more successful.

David Rock’s SCARF Model is a summary of important neuroscientific discoveries about the way we interact socially.

The model is built on three central ideas:

1. Your brain treats social threats and rewards with the same or even greater intensity as physical threats and rewards. When your brain detects a threat, you experience a “primary threat” and unconsciously try to stay away from it. When your brain detects something rewarding, you experience a “primary reward” and unconsciously try to move toward that reward. Your brain is constantly making decisions to move towards or away from social threats and rewards.

2. Your capacity to make choices, solve problems, and collaborate with others is generally reduced by a threat response and increased by a reward response.

3. Your threat response is more common and intense.Oftentimes, it needs to be carefully minimized in social interactions.

The acronym SCARF stands for: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

  • Status – the relative importance to others
  • Certainty – the ability to predict the future
  • Autonomy – the sense of control over events
  • Relatedness – the sense of safety with others
  • Fairness – the perception of fair exchanges

How to use the SCARF Method to grow your sales


“We desire status because it signifies that others value us, that we have a place of importance in the group and therefore are connected to the group.” Matthew Lieberman, Social Psychology Professor

Status refers to your sense of importance relative to others.

Status is an extremely important resource to the brain. Your brain is constantly monitoring your status in any group. When you feel like your social status is going up, you feel positive emotions. If you feel like your status is going down, you start to feel more negative emotions.

We are constantly looking for ways to increase our status and feel good about ourselves.

In sales, you should think about how your service or product can enhance your customer’s- social status.

Think about leaving your customers with a “feel good” factor when you pitch them your service or product. Tell them how it can make them more popular or respected in their industries or social circles.

New/rare products can be perceived in terms of “I’m the first one to have it” or “I’m unique.” Branded products often send a very clear status message.

How does your product improve the status of your buyer? Highlight the benefits of owning your solution in terms of relevant status, how does their position in the world improve?


Certainty is the need for clarity and accurate predictions about the future.

Certainty is a fundamental driver of the brain. The brain is a prediction machine, mapping past experience to the present. Whenever we experience some uncertainty, we experience more negative emotions. A small amount of uncertainty can be pleasant, but when we get too much uncertainty, we are in the “threat zone.”

How can you make your customers more certain about your solution?

Your customers want evidence that your offer is right for them. Offering warranties and money back guarantees will increase their certainty. Being an established or well-reviewed provider will also establish trust and grow your referral network.  

To reduce your customers’ levels of uncertainty, make your conditions explicit and simplify your message. Reduce your customers decision overwhelm by presenting the clearest options with the smallest risk possible.


Autonomy is tied to a sense of control over life, and the perception that their choices will create a better outcome.

When you feel like you have choices, you feel Autonomy.  People who have choices are more likely to experience positive emotions. A lack of autonomy results in negative emotions.

How can you give your customers a sense of control?

Give them the right number of choices. Keep the paradox of choice  in mind: when too many options are available, it’s much harder to make a decision. This paradox can lead your customers to not make any choice at all, or to test out different options offered by other providers.

At the same time, too few options or unsolicited advice can create SCARF threats. If your customers feel like you’re telling them what to do, their sense of autonomy, status, relatedness, and fairness is lowered. As a result, they may ignore your suggestion, or argue against them.

Think about presenting your information in such a way that your customers feel that they’re in control, and not being pushed to make sudden decisions.


Relatedness is a person’s sense of connection and security with a group.

Relatedness involves deciding if others are “in” or “out” of a social group: whether someone is friend or foe. The concept of being inside or outside the group is probably a byproduct of living in small communities for millions of years, where strangers were likely to be trouble and should be avoided.

Everyone wants to know where they fit in. How can your product or service help customers be a part of the in-group?

The challenge is to define your target customers, and then identify how your services/products can provide them with a sense of belonging.

Think of sports fans - they like to identify with their favorite teams by wearing team colors; it provides them with such a sense of belonging.

The concept of relatedness is also closely linked to trust. When you connect with people interested in the same things you are, you experience more positive emotions. When you meet someone you don’t trust, you start to feel more negative emotions. Greater trust creates strong relationships. You can boost your customers’ sense of relatedness by making yourself as trustworthy as possible.  


Fairness refers to just and unbiased exchanges between people.

Everyone likes to feel like they’ve been dealt with fairly. When we feel like we’ve been treated unfairly, we experience disappointment, anger, disillusionment, and frustration. When we’re treated fairly, we feel joy, happiness, motivation, and commitment.

How can you demonstrate fairness to your customers?

The popularity of comparison websites probably results from our social need for fairness. We just want to know that we’re getting a fair deal.

You can decrease your customers’ perception of unfairness with transparency. A sense of unfairness can result from a lack of clear rules. So, be upfront about your product/service’s limitations when your customers ask about them. Showing your customers that you and your company are honest will build trust.

Fairness is important because it can lead to brand loyalty. Don’t just offer special rates/ bonuses/features to your new customers. This preferential treatment is not fair to your existing (and loyal!) customers.

Understanding the five domains of SCARF model can help you to collaborate with others and be more influential. When you reflect on your sales conversations, run through the five domains and ask yourself if you’re putting them to use.

You can learn how sensitive you are to each of the SCARF domains by taking the SCARF Self Assessment.  If you become more mindful of neurological social drivers, you will improve your customer relationships and see a boost in sales.

About the Author: Magda Voigt  is a certified Solution-Focused, Results-Oriented™ and Neuroscience-Based Coach. She specializes in translating neuroscientific insights into actionable change strategies. Magda helps professionals, their teams and their organisations achieve positive, lasting change by leveraging the power of the brain to drive performance and results.


SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, David Rock, NeuroLeadership Journal, Issue One, 2008

SCARF® in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others, Dr. David Rock and Christine Cox, Ph.D, NeuroLeadership Journal Issue Four, 2012

Brain-Based Conversation Skills, 2015

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