How the scarcity model affects sales

The sales process and, to a lesser extent, marketing are the forums in which scarcity models show up most clearly in business.

This is hardly surprising given that sales is about acquiring clients and customers, and that is, in turn, the means of acquiring money.

Here are some ways that scarcity models reveal themselves.


Sometimes one meets people at networking events who just give off a sense of neediness. It may be slight but it can more apparent at repeated meetings.

It’s possible that the person—let’s call him or her White—isn’t at all needy and the other person (Black) is mistaken, or may be projecting their own neediness onto the encounter. But, usually White is, and the crucial point is that either

(a) White is unaware of this and is therefore communicating his/her state of mind subconsciously (like we all do, most of the time)

or (b) White is aware that he/she can be needy, but is unaware that he/she is communicating it and/or doesn’t know how to stop doing so.

Only on rare occasions is White consciously communicating this neediness, and that’s because White knows—like we all do—that neediness is unattractive to the point of being offputting. People metaphorically, or even literally, move away from you if you keep it up.

Neediness is, of course, an expression of the scarcity model: “I need you to become a client” or “I need you to give me a lead” because “I know there isn’t enough to go round”.  One of the reasons this is unattractive to other people is that White is essentially putting him/herself in a dependent position and, why would you want anyone, let alone someone you hardly know, to be dependent on you?

It has to be mentioned that some people would rather be right about a bad situation than go through the risk of changing the situation to a better one. They as good as create a work situation which conforms to their beliefs around scarcity, so it isn’t really surprising that they feel scarcity! But, at least they can be confident that their view of the world is right.

Giving in order to get

Many years ago, I had a one to one meeting with an accountant who, during our conversation, took from his desk a ledger in which he had recorded the value of all the business that had been referred to him so that he could be sure that he didn’t refer work of a higher value back.

Some people would rather be right about a bad situation than deal with the risk of changing the situation to a better one.

This true story may be at the very extreme, but it does exemplify a tendency for people to think that the motto “Givers gain” (for example)—which is supposed to mean that one should give unconditionally to others because “what goes around comes around”—actually means “I’ll give you something but I want something back in return”. This conditional giving by White—which is giving with an expectation of a payback—however subconsciously it is communicated, is experienced by Black as a demand. And people don’t like demands being made of them.

Once again, the effect isn’t negated because it is experienced subconsciously.

I recently encountered a LinkedIn discussion forum in which someone (actually a sales trainer) had initiated a discussion in the usual way, ie, he posted a link to a page on his website. (I don’t think this actually counts as initiating a discussion, but let that pass.) The suggestion was that, click on this link and you’ll be able to read something interesting/useful/possibly even of value.

On clicking the link, however, a form was displayed requiring me to provide my contact details. I hadn’t got the impression that this was going to be necessary. I felt it had been sprung on me and, worse, it had all the trappings, not just of “give something (the article) in order to get (my contact details)”, but actually of taking my contact details before the article was even forthcoming.

To the extent that the outcome was different to that which I had been led to believe it would be, I felt the initial posting was deceptive. It was pretending to be something it clearly wasn’t.

It would be remarkable if it weren’t so commonplace that a service provider is impelled by his/her scarcity model to set up a possible business relationship in such a way that it guarantees the destruction of that relationship. After all, who wants a business relationship with someone who misleads you?


As these two case studies show, the model can show up in some richness.

In the first case, a writer advises her readers to “dumb themselves down as a helpful daily habit… Because it’s flattering and it makes people feel more confident and more comfortable working with us.”

Really? if I need financial advice, for example, am I really going to be persuaded to sign up with someone who pretends to be an idiot? This is going back to the territory of the previous example—but from the opposite direction: it’s a belief that I won’t get the work unless I pretend to be someone other than who I actually am.

Phrases which are smiled upon by this writer include “It’s always enlightening speaking to you” and “I don’t know a patch on what you know”.

In the second case, the writer is essentially advising that the sales call be set up as a fight between the seller and the prospect. The seller has to use an “arsenal” of “tools” (ie weapons), the prospect has to be made “uncomfortable” so that they reveal information they would rather not reveal, and the article is illustrated by a picture of two people arm-wrestling!

Again, we have advice that we should be other than who we really are. This plays into an underlying reason for the scarcity model: that we are not good enough. The area in which we are not good enough (or so we think) isn’t anything to do with business, of course, any more than the thing we’re trying to get at this point has got anything to do with what we really need.

The irony is that, if it were the case that we are not good enough (and it isn’t), then we are going to be even less good at trying to be an inauthentic version of ourselves.

This article is based on extracts from Network better,by Jeremy Marchant, edited 30 april 2019
© 2019 Jeremy Marchant Limited . image: Free images

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