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Harness Your Inner Caveman

Published by Dr. Jean Oursler on 15 Mar 2023

Business psychology can turn an accidental salesperson into a success: Here’s how to get started. 

I recently had the chance to discuss caveman brain on Summit’s Virtual CPA Success Show with Jody Grunden, Co-founder of Summit CPA Group and Partner at Anders CPAs + Advisors, and Jamie Nau, Director of Virtual CFO at Summit. 

So what exactly is caveman brain? I created Caveman Brain: Business Growth System for anyone who wants to get out of their own way and make their caveman brain work for them. We all have a caveman inside of us–and not just those of us who like to grunt and eat giant hocks of meat. All of us. 

It lives inside a part of our brain known as the amygdala, an almond-shaped mass in the back of our skull that evolved thousands of years ago with one job: to keep us alive. 

During the caveman days, that internal protection system was the only thing between us and the saber-toothed tiger that might have been hiding in the bushes. When it comes to tigers, better safe than sorry–so our caveman brain is programmed to act, not analyze. It floods the body with chemicals that cause the fight-flight-or-freeze response at the first sign of danger.

The problem is, today we don’t have many tigers hanging out, but our caveman brain is still part of us, and it’s looking for something to do: so it tells us stories about all the threats out there. It tells us to be scared to look at our metrics because maybe they’re terrible. It tells us not to call a potential client because maybe they’ll reject us. It tells us we’re bad at doing something new because it feels hard. 

Everyone has a caveman brain. The secret is knowing how to harness it.

Start by Understanding Your Caveman Brainpexels-sora-shimazaki-5668855

The caveman brain likes to make up stories, bad and good. If you’re watching a scary movie where the main character is about to do something dumb, you might get sweaty palms or an elevated heart rate even though the rational part of your brain knows there’s no danger. 

It also likes to be right. If you’ve just bought a new car, and you see it everywhere you go, it’s not because suddenly everyone is driving that car. That’s your caveman brain telling you, “Good job, very smart choice.” 

The caveman will believe what it sees and hears, so you want to pay attention to the stories you tell yourself about your abilities and limits. “I’m bad at sales,” or “I’m not a numbers person,” or “I can’t do business remotely.” When we tell ourselves these things repeatedly, they start to become true. But really, if we can just get our caveman brain to latch onto another story, we can get rid of some of that fear. 

In business, one of the first stories we need to reprogram is that salespeople are trying to push people into buying something that they don’t need. Really, what we’re doing is connecting their problem to our solution. 

Get to Know the Caveman on the Other Side of the Table

As you get to know your caveman brain, you’ll be able to look across the table at potential clients, recognize theirs, and use that knowledge to help streamline the sales process. 

This will work best when you know exactly who your target client is to the point that you can spot them across the room at a party. Once you know your target, you can move away from the icky feeling of being a used car salesman and realize that what we’re really doing as business people is figuring out how to convince someone to try a solution that they need but maybe never considered before. 

It’s not about pushing something on someone, but putting it in language their caveman brain can understand: “You have this problem. Do you want to still have this problem in six months or would you like to solve it today?” 

Don’t Upset Your Caveman

There are a lot of reasons why knowing your target audience is key–but one of the biggest is that it keeps your caveman brain happy because it minimizes failure. If you try the spaghetti method–throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks–you’re going to fail a lot more often than necessary. 

With each failure, your caveman brain is going to start to say, “This doesn’t work. I’m bad at it. I don’t want to do this.” 

All of a sudden, you’ve stopped doing business development and that’s the lifeblood of your business. If you’re not bringing in new clients, how are you growing? 

Make Metrics Your Friend

Numbers get some people’s caveman brain upset. Maybe it was a bad high school math class, or maybe there’s fear around what they’ll find out when they open the spreadsheet, but we see it with new clients, and it 100% holds them back. 

Knowing your metrics is the only way to be sure you're pricing your service properly. What is your close time? What is your close ratio? Putting a little bit of math behind it is the only way to determine if your pipeline is the right size to hit your goals. 

So many people are anti-metrics because they can’t figure out how to get their caveman brain on board. And the power comes from understanding the numbers. 

Follow the Red Bouncing Ball … All the Way Past Rejection 

When it comes to talking to potential clients, I have a method to get past the caveman brain: the red bouncing ball. Basically, the idea is to think of business development just like the red bouncing ball in karaoke: I meet you, you introduce me to somebody else who introduces me to somebody else, and suddenly, I’ve got a client meeting. As long as you keep looking at the ball and moving it along, you’re going to be successful. 

If that’s a challenge for you, you have to look at why, specifically. Is it because you’re afraid to pick up the phone and interrupt someone? Or that you’re going to get rejected? Or be successful? That’s one part of the problem. 

Another thing to think about, if you’re having trouble picking up the phone, is whether you believe in what you’re selling – and that the clients need it. If you do, then all you need to do is keep focusing on finding your target audience. Once you do, the sales process won’t be such a heavy lift. 

There are techniques to minimize rejection, but no matter how many you master, there will always be rejection. That’s why you’ve got to start telling your caveman brain now that it can take nine “no’s” to get to a “yes.” Maybe even celebrate your “no’s” as they come in because each one is getting you closer to a sale. 

Take an Hour a Day to Grow your Business 

Your caveman brain is going to fool you in terms of new business development. You'll get stuck because it’s keeping you frozen in place. To break yourself out of it, take one step, the easiest thing for you to do right now. 

Call a client and say, “Hey, I love you so much. I love to work with people that are like you. Who do you know that I should talk to?” Before you know it, that red ball will be bouncing in the right direction. 

Just one step to move forward. I encourage people to spend just one hour a day on this–even if it’s five-, ten-, twenty-minute blocks at a time. 

Those small successes are critical when working with your caveman brain, especially for entrepreneurs that start out as accidental salespeople. 

We see this all the time: First, they’re doing the work and they’re really good at it, so they start their own business. Since they know their service best, they’re the one doing the sales–even if they tell themselves, “I’m not good at sales.” It works well for a time, but unless you start doing it really intentionally, there’s going to come a point when that explosive growth doesn’t just happen. 

When you start to take those small steps toward business development, you can get the caveman brain on your side. With each goal you reach, you’ll be able to tell yourself, “Oh, I do know how to do this.” 

 *Dr. Jean Oursler is the creator of Caveman Brain: Business Growth System 


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