Why Get Ahead Of The Buyer?0

 By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Rear view

I recently saw an ad for a sales program, and that big bold letters enticing me to buy read: “How To Get Ahead Of Your Buyer”. While I get where they were coming from, or more accurately who they were trying to appeal to, but there was just something wrong with the way it was phrased.

I think one of the biggest challenges sales people have is not to get ahead of the buyer, it seems to me that getting ahead of the buyer is the same as “leaving the buyer behind”, a dangerous notion and more dangerous practice.

One of the key things we help sales teams accomplish with the EDGE framework is alignment with the buyer. Executing the sale in a way that keeps you engaged and in step with the buyer, leads to a number of pluses, not to mention more sales.

Alignment is key, it helps you focus and cover objectives, which then allows you to offer practical means of helping the client achieve those objectives. The idea of getting ahead of the buyer has an old school ring of pain and needs based selling.

When you rush ahead of the buyer, because you are familiar with the scenario, you’ve seen and heard it before, you tend to want to “close” too early, usually relying on old school “closing techniques”. In some ways I thought we were past this, but this ad and a recent discussion in a LinkedIn group suggest that we are not. That discussion was based on the question “What’s the best, most effective question you’ve ever asked a client?” Apparently some sales people still ask what keeps the prospect awake at night. With thinking like that, and leaving the buyer behind, sellers move to close too early in the process, you may feel you are done your discovery, but the buyer is still defining and refining their requirements. Moving to close at this stage will at worst make the buyer feel pressured, scare them to compare to others, and at best, slow down the deal, requiring a longer sales cycle, the use of more resources, and less time to spend on other opportunities.

When this happens, and other companies enter the fray, price will not only become an issue, but a central issue. What was your deal to win, now becomes your deal to buy, and there is never money in that.

The flip-side of getting ahead, is falling behind, the relationship approach, “whatever makes you happy, I’ll be here when you’re ready.” The net effect of this again is that the buyer learns whet they require, after all you are there with all the facts and didees, and when they are ready to buy, they do so from the guy asking for the order, not the one waiting.

Work with the buyer, lead the buyer, based on their objectives, your expertise as a subject matter expert, but don’t get ahead, or fall behind, manage the alignment.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 


Sales Leaders – You Get What You Ask For – Sales eXchange 2372

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Money on scale

Price is a ‘big’ subject for all in sales, right from those developing product, to marketing, all in the sales organisation, and as important as any, the customer. We all have an economic and emotional involvement in it, yet it often continues to be a challenge for all in the chain.

I think one reason is the message many sales leaders send their teams, and their peers in the revenue generation process. I think in some terms, it is the mixed messages they send that confuses and leads to undesired results.

One obvious factor and lever is incentive. I keep hearing, as I have heard throughout my sales career, that incentive drives behaviour, if so why do so many companies (senior sales executives), continue to reward sales people on the price they get, rather than the profit that sales person contributes? I used to work with someone who kept insisting that companies go out of business due to lack of sales. He would never accept that in fact businesses go under due to a lack of profits. Even when I showed him that many businesses had their best revenue days when the bankruptcy trustees were holding liquidation sales.

I have fund that companies who incent their sales people based on gross profits are consistently better aligned with their reps, and achieve mutually better results. But many continue to base incentives on top line gross revenues, others on some proxy for revenue or some model of potential residual revenue stream to materialize in the future, even when the incentive is paid out now.

Sellers who are paid on revenues only, are more likely to discount, and advocate for the buyer, rather than drive mutual value. As we all know, a $500 discount on a $10,000 piece of equipment, can have little impact on what the reps gets paid, but could be a huge part of the gross or net margin.

One has to wonder why in today’s economy anyone would pay out based on top line vs. GP. One company I worked with couldn’t really tell you what their margins were, as a result they went with paying on the top line, which only compounded the issue, as they didn’t know if commissions were wiping out the last bit of profit, or… At the end of the quarter they were either profitable or not, but either way not by design. This may be an extreme example, but I don’t think it is rare.

It is not just about the company’s profits, but many who pay on GP, are able to attract and develop better sales people. Sales people who want to and sell at full value, a true win-win-win situation. The same instincts that allow sales people to choose a discount when paid on top line, drive sale reps paid on margin to deliver value for all three key parties. No value for the client, no sale, no commission; no discounts offered, because those come as much out of the seller’s pocket as the company’s. Clients don’t get gouged, because there would be no sales, no commission.

There is no doubt that switching from top line to margin payouts cause reverberations, and push back from sellers. But I am willing to bet that only from those who can’t survive on the crumbs they leave in any given deal. Sometimes you need to shake things up, thin the herd to make room for those who want to feast along with the customers and their employers.

Please, New Is So Old Now – Sales eXchange 2361

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


I got a note from one of the pundits in my inbox telling me things I should do for sales success in the New Year. You may expect these type of things mid-way through December till maybe January 10th, but after that it is just an indicator that they don’t really understand B2B sales at all, and the customers they get as a result, they deserve.

As a sales person your really do need to live in the future, and fulfill in the present. You need to live in the future for two simple (probably more) reasons. First, if you are going to deliver real and lasting value to your customers you need to leave “ahead of them. If you are going to deliver to and drive their objectives, you have to be where those objectives will unfold, and that is almost always in the future. Especially with business leaders, be they leading small or large global companies. If you speak to these folks and you should, (as well as speaking to everyone else in the organization, it is not one über the others), you will notice that their horizon is in the future, based on who they are it could be six, twelve, eighteen months or more in the future. The have delegated the present to others in their organization, in the case of small business, they have relegated it to a different part of their thinking.

So if you are going to align and sell to them today, you need to be thinking and talking to things they thinking about, which means they have been in 2014 for some time, cranking up you preparation now, like the pundit suggest, nay, scream to the buyer, “This guy is no for you”, as my fellow Tull freaks will say he is “Living In The Past”. If you are going to step in to the roll of thought leader for these buyers, you need to recognize that you need to lead from the front.

The other reason you need to live in the future, is driven by the realities of calendars, fiscal years, invoicing and the payable cycles of your buyer. Let’s say you have a three month sales cycle (handshake to close), and you get paid when the first invoice is paid, 30 days is acceptable period for an invoice to be paid, you are going to need four months of run way for a deal to count towards your number this year. Which means anything you start after September 2, will be next year’s number. If it counts and you get paid, when the contract is signed, then that date moves to October 2nd. So if you were going to look at doing things a new way for 2014, you will have need to start that process last September or October, not January 26.

This is not to say that you should not always be adding new elements to your selling, just look at that as an ongoing part of your personal development, not an event tied to the New Year. Yes, I know the pundit needs to sell too, but you don’t have to buy if it will not help you now, or in the “now future”.

I am going to keep this mail as I am certain it is the exact same one she sent last January, with dates changed. I am not sure if I remember because it irritated me last year, or the fact that they used a stock photo used by a million other sites.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Fine Line Between Cool and Rude8

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Back 2 back sm

In an increasingly hurried world of too many things to do in too few hours, buyers seem to fall in to two groups: Cool and Rude. The cool are those who can deal with and clearly communicate what is on their mind, regardless of the impact on sellers. While what they communicate may not be what sellers want to hear, the upside is that the communication is clear, and they are offered the respect a potential partner deserves. The rude (and I suspect other shortcomings) are those who fail to communicate clearly for whatever reason, that, only they know since they are unable or willing to communicate properly.

Specifically I am speaking about the common act by many, but here specifically prospects, of going radio silent on sellers.


This came about as a result of a coffee with a long-time associate Harry, a very professional and proven seller in his industry, with a solid track record of delivering results for both his employer and his clients. He has been around long enough to know that his offering is not for everyone, and that at times he does not sell as well as other times, but he has for years managed to sell and deliver value in an industry that continues to be commoditized daily. Add to that we were talking about not people not responding to initial approaches from e-mail, inbound marketing, cold calls, voice mails, LinkedIn InMails, Tweets, or any form of initial approach, the examples he was discussing were from people who were engaged in the process, went well past the initial exploration, and clearly expressed more than an interest in engaging. Harry was lamenting the loss of common courtesy, not that he expects everyone who starts the process to buy, just a simple communication as to where things are, even when they are nowhere.  BTW, I have heard this from a steady number of professional sellers of late.

The Reality

His comments came not from the frustration as a seller, but the deterioration of common courtesy in business. He has been around long enough to understand that many will not see value in what you sell, and may come to that determination after going part way through the cycle. Being old school, he is doggedly focused on next steps, and when he doesn’t get one, he understands that he needs to both ask why, and he needs to find a new prospect to replace the one that just said no. What he was puzzled by is why people who committed to a next meeting, next call, next action, not only do not follow through, but fail to communicate. Yes, silence clearly communicates their intent, he was just wondering why they just couldn’t say no. Again, for Harry it was not about the lost sales, but the lack of will, or ability to communicate.

Most professional sales people understand that they will hear more no’s than yes’s, in fact the better they are, the truer that is. Harry was just asking to hear something, even as he moved on to the next opportunity.

Yes, we know that buyers are crazy busy; busy, busy, busy; but busy is not permission to be rude. In fact most successful executives go out of their way to close conversations and discussions, I suspect because they know they may need to interact with that person at one point in the future; now that’s cool! As Harry said “I didn’t put a gun to their head to meet to begin with, some reached out to me, the least they can do is to tell me to FOD.”

In a selling world enamoured with the concept of relationship and etiquette, one where the mantra of people buy from people, rules supreme, it is a curiosity why so many seem to prefer to be rude and ignorant, rather than cool and communicative.


What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

It Is About The Realization Not The Need – Sales eXchange 2290

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


I had some interesting feedback to a recent post on my blog The Pipeline, titled Is BANT Helping You Lose Sales?   The gist of the piece was that many put an over emphasis on “need”, and thereby limit their success. (There is so much more to it, you really should read it).  Two in particular stood out, one gave the argument I was making further context, and the other added a layer that provides clearer focus to those willing to apply the line of thought.

First was the feedback relating to a point I touched on, specifically the role of BANT in the sale, I mentioned that it is a means of qualifying a buyer or opportunity. But the reader took it further in an important way. They pointed out that many forget that BANT is for qualifying, and instead use it as means of selling. By doing that they fall into the trap outlined in the piece, specifically, since BANT is focused on needs, it limits one’s ability to sell to those who don’t immediately have or perceive a need. For qualifying it works because it highlights areas that must be present if you are to achieve a sales. While a buyer may have budget, authority, and has a record of acting in a timely way, but may not have a real or perceived need. They will always have objectives, but not always have a realized need associated with those objectives. Without that need, BANT fails as a means of selling, even while helping you qualify (or disqualify).

That’s where the second comment picks up, it highlighted the fact that by taking the focus off the need, and putting it squarely on the buyers’ objectives, the conversation will inevitably lead back to need. For successful sales people it is about the realization, not the need. By focusing on the buyer’s objectives, you open a line of discussion that surfaces what those objectives are, and people love talking about themselves, their plans and aspirations. Remember to explore both the ‘personal’ and ‘organizational’ objectives.

A simple and proven way to start this is to simply ask: “If we were sitting here 18 months from now and you were telling me that you and the team had hit a grand slam, what would that look like?” In framing the question that way, you not only introduced a timeframe, but allowed them to look beyond their current state, and describe their ‘ideal’ state. Once they have completed telling you, ask, “So I am curious, why aren’t we there now?” And that is when the realization comes, as they tell you what stands between them and their stated objectives, the obstacles and gaps, in essence telling you and them what they “need” to get there. That’s the realization takes someone from status quo, the majority of the market, to engaged prospect. Not the need, but the realization, the acceptance, and the energy in realizing that they can in fact achieve their objectives, and achieve them with your help. Without realization, there is no need.


What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Is BANT Helping You Lose Sales?4

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


For the longest time we were encouraged to use the BANT as a means of qualifying potential buyers, and I guess by extension shorten sales cycles and get more sales.  When you think of the components of BANTBudget, Authority (to purchase), Need and Timeframe, they all look sound and valid.  No Budget – no buy; no authority – no buy; no need – no buy; no timeline – no buy.  The implication is that without these four elements, you do not have a qualified buyer. So where is the problem, well the reality is that buyers with all four attributes present, especially in the qualifying stage, are very few.

According to the same pundits who promote BANT, usually less than 30% of your potential market, reduce that by the number of people not ready or yet prepared to act, and you are looking at a small and crowded segment.  Crowded because every sales person has got their eye fixed on these people, as they are declared buyers.

The larger pool of potential buyers, who may not realise a need, and therefore will not be tied to a timeline, will be disqualified by many using BANT to identify buyers.  Now some will learn to create need, and then a timeline, which is the right thing to do, the question is how to begin that process.

The means is to shift the focus from BANT related areas to the buyer’s objectives.  Companies and buyers all have objectives, things they would like to achieve over time.  As an example, I am dealing with a company currently doing about $32 Million in revenue, and they goal is to be at $100 Million by the end of 2019.  When I was introduced to the owner, what I was selling was not on his need list, want list, wish list, any list.  After all, his folks “are experienced industry veterans, many of them trained long before they join the company.  Many of them were the ones that took the company from $7 Million five years ago, to where they are now, and think of the last five years.

When we first met, he had what he felt was a sound plan to get to his goal, knew what he needed, and was actively executing on those things.  One of his needs was not sales training.  The only thing to do was to abandon BANT and focus on the one thing all decision makes have, and will act on – objectives.

Once we shifted the discussion from what I do, and what his current perceived needs were, to his objectives, and potential barriers to those objectives, the possibilities opened up.  None of them were sales training related (product), but they were all clear to the buyer, once presented in a specific light, and they all begged the question – “how do we do that, how do we achieve that so we can move towards the ultimate goal?”

In the end what will be delivered will look like sales training, but what was bought was something different, something that once defined he needed to get to $100 Million, something that was not a need before the new context, something BANT would have missed.


What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

What Do You Sell? – Sales eXchange 2260

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


Seems like a straight forward question, especially if you are in B2B sales; as easy a lay-up as possible for today’s sellers, right?  But you would be surprised how professional sales people struggle to give a meaningful or useful answer to this question, especially if you measure useful in how well it causes a potential buyer to engage and/or act.  The main reason is that most answers are still anchored in the “product”, and while they may dress it up to sound like “solutions” or other euphemisms, it is usually still beige, and really non-engaging.

Typically I ask this from all groups I work with and over 80% of the time what I hear back are very much the deliverables that their company usually delivers.  I hear hardware, software, applications, blah blah services, etc.  You usually have a few who will say “solutions”, but when pressed for what solutions, many revert back to the comfort of their product or deliverable.  This just  validates that solutions is more a buzz word that the willingness to explore the real problems the buyers is experiencing, or more importantly, what is the perceived problem preventing the buyer from achieving.  While a lot of progress has been made by some, it is still very much that sales people are a solution (defined by marketing or their value proposition) running around the country side looking for a “problem” that fits their solution, rather than being able to help the buyer achieve their objective(s).

The answer to “What do you sell” needs to directly relate to not what the buyer is buying, but what they are trying to achieve with what they buy.

Here is a simple example, assuming a hypothetical buyer need to achieve perfect and identical quarter inch holes, hundreds in multiple places and over a period of years.  When they go to the “store” they are still fixated on the ¼ inch hole, but most sales people want to talk about the drill.  All it’s features, the innovativeness of the engineers who worked on the drill, the ease of use, and the multitude of available attachments, (of which only one could potentially deliver a ¼ inch hole), and more.  The assumption is that the buyer is looking for a drill, the best drill, their drill.  But the buyer is looking for ¼ inch hole, and usually could care less if it is done with a drill, or ice pick, they need a consistent identical whole every time.  But sellers keep talking about what you can do with “it”, not what “it” will do for the buyer.

The answer to the question of what you sell needs to start with what and why the buyer is buying.  Why buyers buy is the key, they are rarely looking for a solutions, they are always looking to achieve an objective, big or small.  Those objectives are in response to perceived risk, financial gain, productivity, time gains, and role defined interests.  But this is just the start, a step many reps have taken, but it is just that a step.

I hear too many reps staying on the surface, using the above categories as complete statements.  Just listen, and you will hear many reps say things like “we deliver efficiencies to workflow, while improving productivity”.  “Our document management solutions reduce costs while enhancing productivity”.  Good starts, but one needs to go deeper to get traction, especially if you are going to try to sell to people who are not looking or have identified a “need” or felt a “pain”.  Without need or pain, the only thing all buyers have in common are objectives, which are not product or solutions based.

Think about the consistently perfect ¼ inch hole, not the perfect drill.


What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Yield Per Call – Best Measure (#video)0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

We are all familiar with the concept of yield per call, based on revenue targets, how much do we need to generate per hour of selling, this assumes you are productively selling every available hour.

The real test however is the perceived value your prospect got from the call, was it time well spent, will it yield a return for them, without a resounding yes, you risk not realising your yield per call.

The question you need to answer is would the buyer pay for the hour with you, or how much would they pay for that hour with you, based on that, it needs to meet their yield per call, which is likely measured and based on an entirely different value scale. Take a look:

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Which ‘R’ Word Will Help You Sell?2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

2 shadow guys

Sales people are always told to pursue relationships as a means of securing buyers, clients, and building trust. While I may not always agree with the order or sequence of these, they are the right ingredients, how you mix them, then cook them up and serve them will directly impact the perception of your buyer, and their willingness to consume or buy what you are dishing..

I have always believed that there is a lot of selling that can be done before you actually have a relationship (at least one worth anything to speak of), so why wait. In fact if you were to break down the elements of “relationship” or trust sellers strive for, you’ll find that a common element in both, namely respect. You can gain the respect a lot sooner than achieving a full and mutually beneficial and balanced relationship, which you can then use as a platform for building and accelerating, and solidifying said relationship.

Gaining and giving respect is easier to deal with early in the association, and can deliver sales as you work your way up the chain. Let’s be clear, I think that there is a lot of selling and revenue that can be achieved long before you have a relationship, and those who tell otherwise are wrong, and costing you sales, and let’s not forget, we are paid to drive sales, not relationships; after a point, selling to someone you have a relationship with becomes easier for all involved.

But many confuse respect with taking a subservient a diminutive stance, nothing can be further from the truth. If you are going to lead someone to a decision, you need to lead, not follow. You goal should be to have at minimum a peer-to-peer connection with your buyer. This involves accepting the role of being a subject matter expert, much less a product expert.

Many sales people don’t do as well as they can when they take on the role of product expert. Buyers by products for the impact those products deliver, not for how the product works. Sure a technology leader may be impressed by your gizmo’s capabilities, how it was developed, and how it is put together; but if it does not address their ability to move them close to their objectives, they will not buy. Being a subject matter expert allows you, no forces you, to go beyond product, to impact, and with that confidence, you can have that peer-to-peer discussion, allowing you to test the buyer’s view and preconceptions, and point to solutions that actually move them towards their stated objective, or a times to rethink and restate objective.

With virtually no difference in many category leaders, the key differentiator is the way you sell. Product sellers get caught in the daily discussions with how they need this or that if they are going to compete. You’ve all heard it at sales meetings, “if only we had this”, “if only it could do that”, “if it only came in red.” You may think you are not bringing that into meetings, but you are, and your buyer senses it. But if you went in as a subject matter expert, ready to help them move forward, you would not get bogged down in product based discussions, even if it does not come in red.

So, respect your buyer, yourself, and your task, to generate revenue for your company buy helping your buyer achieve their objectives. Your buyer will respect that long before they have a “relationship” with you.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

Always Thank The Gatekeeper1

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


When I ask sales people what their biggest challenge is in getting to speak directly with decision makers they are targeting, and voice mail or gatekeepers are at the top of the list, (while call reluctance should be right there with the other two, they don’t usually volunteer that fact). We have dealt with voice mail in the past, so today we’ll look at “gatekeepers”.

There are typically two people labeled as gatekeepers, for many sales people it is the receptionist who greets them while they are door knocking; for others like me for example, it is the executive assistant or admin working for the executive I am targeting. This will primarily look at the latter.

As with many things in sales success comes down to attitude and the luggage you carry. So let’s start with the label, gatekeeper: very negative; almost creates an ‘us and them’ atmosphere right from the start. Why not call them what they are, the admin or assistant, which opens the situation rather than limiting them. The good news is that as someone who works directly with the decision maker, they are privy to a lot of information, most importantly the priorities, objectives and current focus of the executive in question.

If you can align your message with those, there is a greater likelihood that the assistant will engage with you, as they recognize the issue as one on the executive “must do” list. Notice I said engage, too much time effort, money and energy has been spent of schemes to “go around”, “evade” or “neutralize”, the “gatekeeper”, as though they were an infectious disease or member of a lower cast. I have seen advice that is not only demeaning to the role, but risky to the success of those who choose to ignore, or blow past the assistant.

This advice takes into account only half the role of the assistant, they are there to help the decision maker do their job easier and better. Yes that includes keeping unimportant callers away from the DM, but it equally includes introducing things they come across that help the DM move forward on an issue. They do both well, it is up to you to engage the right side. Let’s face it they do a good job of keeping interruptions away, better than my son, when I told him to tell a telemarketer that I wasn’t at home, he told the caller “dad says to tell you he is not home”.

If you’ve done your research, engage the admin the same way you would if you had the DM on the line. Speak with authority, speak with respect, and speak about specific impacts you have delivered vis-à-vis objectives they have, similar to those your research indicated this DM has. There is no point in playing cat and mouse, because the odds are you’ll end up playing the role of the mouse. Speak to the admin the way you would to anyone in the DM’s inner circle.

At the same time keep the focus on speaking with the DM, if the admin feels you “may” add value they will help you, rather than block you. A couple of things to help, always ask for their name, not in an “I’m going to tell your dad on you” tone, but in a way that humanizes the conversation, begins rapport. The reality is that if you have to call back, they will be the one you will speak to; it will make subsequent calls that much easier, you’ll be able to start warm: “Hi Jean, this is Tibor…..”  (I guess if you called, you wouldn’t say Tibor).

But because your goal is to speak to the DM, keep focused on that, when answering the admin’s questions always end with your objective, end whatever response by saying “is he/she available”. Even if they ask what’s the call about, answer in a direct way, again the way you would the DM, but end by adding “is he/she in?” As well, if there is no progress, go for voice mail, but again not in a negative “you’re useless way”, but in creating efficiency way.

By speaking to them in an inclusive way you open a number of possibilities. Depending on your style and the person at the other end of the call, you may do this on the first call or a second call if your message does not get a call back. On the second call you can try one of these two approaches. The more effective of the two is to reintroduce yourself using their name reminding them of you call a few days back. Then ask, “Based on what we talked about, who do you think Mr. Smith would involve or delegate this to?” Remember the admin is in the know, and if what you said is on their priority list, this is not a hard question to answer. If the admin responds “he would have Barbara, the VP of Marketing deal with it.” At that point don’t just get Barbara’s extension, ask to be transferred in, the caller id will show the DM, and they will answer if they are in, and it will the DM’s mail box number if you end up in voice mail. When you connect with Barbara, you know where to take things.

The other way you can take that second call is a bit more adventurous, works less often, but still works. Assuming you have maintained rapport with the admin, just say “Jean, it is Tibor again, we spoke Tuesday, how are you? … I am great thank you; you know the only reason I am calling Mr. Brown is to schedule an appointment, do you have access to his calendar?” (Now you know they do) “Great, how is Wednesday at 8:30 am for him?” About 20% of the time I get a tentative appointment, they usually stick, and when they don’t, the admin works with me to find an alternative. Add to that the fact that the admin has the trust of the DM, so if the admin set the appointment, there must be a good reason. These days you have to leverage every available asset and ally, don’t waste an obvious one.

One final consideration, if everything goes the way you plan and you get a sale, how valuable is having that admin on your side helping navigate the landmines and unknowns in the company. That’s why you always want to thank the admin.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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