no-rules

There Are No Rules In Sales3

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

It’s hard not to laugh sometimes when I hear sales people say something like “Well, it’s supposed to go like this…”, or “I was told to do it that way, cause when we do that the prospects do…” But instead I am empathetic to their plight and innocence. Empathetic, because some manager or pundit told them that if they took a specific step or action, the prospect would react in some specific way. But we all know there are no rules in sales, especially rules that prospect will behave in any way just because of what we may do.

Now pundits have books to sell, and managers have their own agenda, a common one they share is their need for you as a sales rep to act on what they say, hard to do if they mentioned that there are no guarantees, usually because there are no rules.

Studies continue to show that less 20% of Sales Qualified Leads actually close, call that handshake to close, less than 20% – so even if pretended there are rules, they clearly don’t work if the measure is success. I suspect that that as long as sales continues to dependent on interaction between two or more people, rules are hard to articulate or impose.

no-rulesI keep hearing, buyers have changed, and one reason for that is their greater access to information, information about you, your competitors, and if you’re active on Facebook, where you had and what you had for dinner Friday night. You know what else they have access to, sales and sales related info. You think only sellers buy and read sales books; you think that sellers are the only ones who can subscribe to sales blogs and update. I bet more buyers read sales blogs than sellers who read blogs about purchasing, or role specific sites that speak to the different functions covered by the 5.4 people likely to be involved in your sale. There are no secrets.

With buyers who have gone through a few buying cycles, are likely more familiar with “Seller Personas” than many sellers are with buyer personas. In fact, I know buyers who place bets on which category of sales the next person to visit will wear. Based on what they see, they too adapt a persona, just to mess with and see where the seller goes with it. The only time they are genuine when dealing with a genuine individual.

To be genuine, you need to understand what you are doing well, here defined as things that people respond to, and what is not getting you traction with real buyers. By real, we mean, not exclusively price driven, and does indeed buy in a realistic timeframe from when you initially engaged. Since people differ, leading to differences in experience, your best shot is to commit to a formal process of reviewing all the opportunities that qualify to be active in your pipeline. As you gather and grow data, you will be able to bell curve the data and begin to see what works more often, and what doesn’t. As you approach similar situations, you will be able to use those things that have worked in similar situations in the past. Think of it as trial and error with the unfair advantage of data and experience. It will take a bit of work in the form of analysis, but given the apps and tools available today, gathering the inputs is easy. I guess the only rule may be that there are no silver bullets or codes to crack, just act-review-apply learning. A simple but effective rule.

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businessman on the beach

Dog Sales Of Summer1

Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Given that we are right in the middle of summer, and that today is a holiday long weekend here in Toronto, my mind naturally drifted to a summer theme, no doubt helped by things I’ve consumed by poolside. Looking around the water’s edge, you begin to see things here that remind one of sales. I was going to start with bikinis, but I got tagged by the Politically Correctness Police (PCP) last week, so we’ll save that for below.

There is no denying that vacations and other factors lead to summer slowdowns, but that may be just what you need on deals that may have stalled in Q1 or Q2. It’s important to remember that this has internal implications for your prospects as well that you may be able to leverage to restart discussions and the stalled deal. First thing to understand is why is it stalled, at a high level what changed if anything. If their objectives have changed, then any decisions related to that objective will be put on hold. The good news is that many long term objectives do not change as often as some tactical plans. The stall is usually in the how “we get there”, not “where we’re going and why”.

It is entirely possible for objectives to remain steady while tactical plans change. At times the initial path considered may not prove to be optimal, and while they review or adjust, everything gets put on hold, but not everything gets changed or replaced. In fact, it is during these “stalls” that you can step into the void and take on the role of a Subject Matter Expert. When you do, you can circle back with more than “I’m just following up”.

Instead of looking for the deal to be back on, you need to first help them recommit to their objectives. This allows you to be a resource to help them get “unstalled”. In my own practice I had a client that acknowledged they wanted to use my services, but had a number of obstacles that had to be dealt with, and it was clear that they weren’t going to do it on their own, given the number of people and strong opinions. Changing gears, I worked with their VP of Strategy to set up a meeting at a hotel around the block, the meeting was advertised as an objective review session, seemed like the right time of year for an “off-site”.

It was clear that not only had their objectives did not change, they were all still committed to them. But there were some lesser “departmental things that loomed large when they each sat in their office, but paled when on the whiteboard with the bigger more important objectives. This made it easy to not worry about the lesser things and refocus on the bigger objective. Without this I would still be working the deal.

Once you confirm that the objective(s) has remained in place, you can pivot to helping them unclutter things, refocus them on the impacts on their business they set out to achieve, and how that is only a gateway to further success. This approach is often more likely to be considered during the summer lull rather than when the pace is hectic. What else you gotta do?

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Cross training

Five Reasons Your Sales Team Should Be Cross-Trained0

The Pipeline Guest Post – Chase Hughes

As small companies grow, they often see a specialization emerge in their salesforce which only grows to increase its segmentation from one another. The sales department grows to become independent from the customer service, marketing, and other areas of the business. As a startup company, many sales forces intermingle with other departments as they are often in the same floor, right next to one another, and may even be the same person. As companies grow, they can learn from these early stage companies by cross-training their sales team in other areas, or at least promoting engagement with other areas that impact sales. This admittedly does require an investment, but in this article, we will explore five points for why it is helpful to cross-train your sales team.

1. They have a deeper understanding of the customer

The most effective companies have a very strong understanding of their target customer including their demographics, psychographics, and on an emotional level. If a lead generation salesperson has very little interaction with the customer, it would be very difficult to understand any of these points. However, if they interacted with the marketing department, they would be able to effectively understand the quantitative variables from the marketing team and the emotional aspects from the account managers.

2. They understand how their behavior impacts the company more

When a person playing a single role within a company does not have substantial interaction, it is unlikely that they will understand how their behavior impacts others in the company. For instance, a salesperson that only focuses on closing may say things to the customer that negatively impacts the relationship. They really may not care so long as the deal is sold, but the customer may not last long.

3. They feel more engaged with the company

If salespeople understand the role that they play in the pipeline, then they may see the significance of their engagement with it. If they are highly isolated from the company, they do not have much interaction to see how their results influence others in the company, the customers, and the company in its entirety.

4. They have a better understanding of the unique selling proposition

The unique selling proposition for a company is generally not something simply listed on paper; it must be fully understood. If salespeople are interacting with everyone and cross-trained in some other areas, they may see the ‘big picture’ about how the company is actually unique, not just read a script which states why.

5. Other customer facing employees may benefit from their sales experience

Cross-training sales teams and getting them exposure to other parts of the company isn’t just for the benefit of your sales team. There may be product managers which can benefit from interaction with your account managers and ‘closers’ benefiting from training from lead generation experts. Everyone has something to learn and it may not be your sales department at all.

About Chase Hughes

Chase Hughes has six years of experience working in the consulting sector and three years in the private equity sector for large multi-nationals and emerging startups. He is the founding partner of Pro Business Plans, a service that writes business plans for debt and equity capital for startups.

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New Or Improved

Same New, Same New!0

Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

We are familiar with the expression “same old same old”, indicating that little has changed save the packaging. This is why you don’t see marketers and ad folks lead an advert or campaign by proclaiming that this “new thing they are presenting, is really the same as previous versions or releases, but we did slap a fresh coat of paint on it”. Instead we are presented with yet another new improved dish detergent, that leave the plates no cleaner than last year’s model. We have all seen our favourite web site introduce “upgrades” that feature little or no new functionality, just buttons moved around like the deckchairs on the Titanic.

I think that in sales, for something to qualify as “new”, not swept clean or rinsed off, but truly new, it should have two elements, A) it should allow you to do something in a measurably more efficient way while leading to more prospect and/or sales; B) it should change your behaviour and how you execute moving forward. For example, when BlackBerry introduced the first device to combined e-mail and phone in one handset in 2002. Clearly made one more productive in a sales context and clearly changed the way sales people, and all business people behaved after it’s adoption. Many of the specialized productivity apps you find on tablets, had the same impact on many roles.

As sales professional your most valuable asset is your time, your most valuable tool is your sales process or sales-flow. Any “new” thing, be it a sales tool, app or methodology, should be measured against those two elements, do they free up time that you can reinvest into selling, and do they help you execute your process better, leading to you being able to sell better and more? If they do great, the time and effort invested, the momentary distraction of applying something new, are all worth it given the increased sales and productivity that will follow, and on an ongoing basis. If not, then is it really worth your time and distraction?

While I know a lot of Apple groupies, few get every release of the iPhone. The question that needs to be answered is whether the change was either needed, due to a shift in the market or a flaw with previous iteration. If not, it is a safe bet the biggest beneficiary is the person/company selling the “New”. Did the provider of the service, hardware, software or what have you, manufacture the impetus for change, and is the only one pointing to it, or did it evolve because of a hole in the market? If it is the latter great, especially if that hole is impacting your ability to succeed. If on the other hand the only one impacted by the “new” is the guy selling it, you should spend time elsewhere.

If leveraging your process to better use your time and improve execution to sell better is something new to you, start there, worry about buying something new later. New does not equal good, good equals good, and the test for that is not newness.

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Are Your Sales Relationships Painful?1

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

People ask me why I focus so much on prospects’ objectives, after all if you can find a pain and play to it, you are bound to get a sale.  Well maybe.  I always find it amusing that when I ask people what do they want to know about a potential buyer, too many say “I want to know what their pain point is, their needs, the problem”.   When I ask what they want to achieve in a first/second meeting with a prospect, they start gushing on about wanting to establish a relationship.  One guy at an IT consulting/systems integrator, said this to me literally when I asked what his goal is for a first meeting: “I want to find the soft underbelly of the beast; stab it; then serve up the cure”.  While you may be shaking your head, and rightfully so, I hear this same type of thing said differently by so many in sales, including pundits, I worry.

You Don’t Have To Hurt The Ones You Love

So maybe I am missing the point, but how does one go from poking (or probing) for pain, latent or other, and in the space of one hour or so go to forming a relationship?  Maybe it is a Bizarro sales version of the Stockholm Syndrome.  How else can you explain the expectation that one can search for or deliver pain with a blunt instrument, and establish rapport or a relationship, even if you hand out Aspirins.What I see as being more effective, even with buyers who are screaming with pain, is to focus the buyer on a point down the road, a point in time 18 – 24 months in the future. You want the buyer to “see” themselves, their aspirations and their opportunities in your narrative and experience. Your ability to create an authoritative dialogue aligned with their objectives, based on specific instances where you have enabled and enhanced clients’ ability to reach their long term objectives, but to speak convincingly about specific impacts and outcomes.

While there is no doubt that in the near term pain relief is paramount, it does beg the question what then?  Pain is short term, usually negative, and limiting. While objectives are long term, tied to other initiatives, uplifting and positive, and as a result have an energy “pain” and “needs” don’t.

By marginalising the “pain”, and focusing on the big picture beyond the current pain, you can create a level of involvement and emotional commitment that is not available when it’s only about solving an immediate problem. Long term relationships should be tied to the long term, be that goals, objectives, etc. Clearly you want to address and resolve immediate “problems”, but you need to position that is but a small line item in a much bigger plan. To do that, you need to open up the conversation to align it with the big picture.  As mentioned, pain discussions are narrow and limiting, so in conversation with a client, assume you will solve the problem, and steer towards the long term.

A Primer

I have written about this in the past, but I find a two-part question to be an effective way of practicing and fine tuning this. You will need to make it more specific to your buyers over time, but use this as a primer.

Once you get past the usual social element at start of the meeting, ask:

I am curious Jane, if we were sitting here 18 months from now, and you were telling me your team had hit a grand slam, what would that look like?

The goal is to get them to look past their current positions pain or perhaps problem, and refocus the on their success plan, hence the grand slam reference. You’ll find that there is a moment of reflection, a couple of basic things, and then it gets interesting when they start detailing what their equivalent of a grand slam is.  Once you have let them share their vision, you really do need to shut up here and intensely listen, you can the ask the second question:

Help me understand why we are not there now?

You will often find that they reflect again, and start telling you about what’s keeping them from hitting grand slam.  What you’ll also find is that they will talk about many of the same things you have helped other achieve, and build a relationship around.

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Pain Pills

Pick Your Pain0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

There is a lot of talk in sales about pain, sales people seem to be always looking for it in buyers, trying to avoid it in their world, yet selectively being open to some pain, while completely avers to the same or lesser pain served up differently.  Many sales people seem to live a variation of an old sayings, “Better the pain you know than the pain you don’t know”; “The lesser of two pains.”  For me it all stems from prospecting, sales people willingness to prospect thoroughly and consistently.

When I ask sales people why they don’t like to tele-prospect, the number one reason I get is the fear of rejection, the pain of rejection seems so big and painful, that people would rather forfeit success, than pick up the phone and talk to a real prospect.   No doubt there is a big rejection factor, chances are you will be rejected by about 86% of the people you speak with.

At the same time, studies have shown that on average the close ratio of Sales Qualified Leads in B2B sales is 16.4%.  Looked at the other way, this is an 83.4% rejection rate.  Yet I have never heard a rep tell me they don’t want to go to a first appointment for fear of being rejected at the end.  They happily march off to battle, giving it their all, never thinking twice about the impending rejection to come, they lean in to it and make it happen, well sometimes, really about 16.4% of the time.  So what am I missing 86.00% vs. 83.40%, where in the 2.6% difference is the tipping point?  While rejection in any form is undesirable, seems to me the quick bullet between the eyes when making a cold call is much better than the slow death.  I hate it when you go down to the wire and get a no, having invested the effort time and resources required moving the sale along.  You don’t know the guy who just hung up on you, and he would not have a clue who you are when you stand behind him waiting for his “skinny soy venti double shot Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha”.  It is even worse with Marketing Qualified Leads, according to some, 98% will not lead to closed business.

The key difference is the complete lack of process and metrics around prospecting vs. the rest of the sale.  Most sales people and organizations have clear process for the sales from handshake to close.  The stages are defined, activities, tools, measurements all in place.  Contingencies for different road blocks, potential alternatives, and resources.  This allows for context and understanding, we may not like the results, but we can contextualize it based on the process, and take lessons into the next sale.

The same can be said for the lead generation process.  Clear rules around what happens when there is an inquiry, how they are nurtured, etc.

But when it comes to that first contact there is little process.  Sure some give you a script, but what about the dynamics, how to deal with environment created by an interruption, how to handle the most common objections.  Metrics are absolute, rather qualitative and individual, making them limiting not enabling.

In the end though the worst pain is that of being “Rejected from President’s Club”.   Somehow some sales people would rather live with the pain, stigma and reality of missing quota, than a brief rejection from someone they do not know, who will forget them long before the next call.

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Stop the domino effect concept for solution to a problem

Sales Excuse Litmus Test and Cure7

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

I had an interesting chat with a client last week. We were reviewing their progress on specific things we agreed on. She mentioned that she had not made progress on a specific task, and was honest enough to add “I am not sure if I am making excuses or if there are other real factors preventing me from getting it done.” While it may be easy to just default that they were just making excuses, that will do little to get them to change their ways. It is better to approach it in a way that leaves them open to change, and will get them to take ownership for the outcome, which will drive the activity. In this case the outcome is more sales and earnings, so let’s look at the litmus test and how will then to execution rather than excuses.

In this case the task was to prospect in sufficient amounts to ensure a given number of new opportunities per month. The method was not an issue, they can cold call, socialize, referrals, whatever, the measure was new opportunities. Since all activities take time, and time is the currency of sales, how you spend or invest it will dictate your success. Based on that I asked this rep to sit down and carve out 30 minutes each day specifically for prospecting. To be successful, I insisted that they block out the times for the following week the week before. On Thursday, block out times for next week, this way you are doing it before getting caught up in the moment, when it is easy to rationalize not doing something when something that seems bigger (at the time).

After the first week we can explore empirical evidence as to how the half hour a day impacted all other activities. Did they still get all the other “important” things done, or did their universe fall apart, and they can’t show their face at the club any more. If it was the former, then we just keep carving out incrementally more time, till we get a balance of getting all the things we need to done. This works best when you chunk time for all the important things that you need to do, and focus on just the activity you have allocated the time for.

If the result is that you are not getting all “important” things done, then we need to look at a couple of things. First, are they all “important”, or are we doing some things to be able to legitimately avoid others. One thing that takes work but delivers results is looking at your habits, auto routines, you’ll need a partner in this one as few of us are objective enough about our habits to work this alone. They say that 40% of our daily activities are habits, we do them without thinking. Some good habits like working out, others bad, like a smoke with every coffee. If you can identify, or have someone help you identify “bad sales habits”, you can then focus on changing the habit, which will change the result. If you can swap out a bad habit or two, and replace them with good habits that will get done automatically, you will change the impacts and outcomes.

Best to do this slow, and one specific habit at a time. Small victories lead to big results. Change=pain=gain, trying to change all bad habits at once, will usually lead to being crushed under the weight of the challenge, giving up, and staying the same, and clearly the same is not good in this case.

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Achieving success with the Passively Looking segment of B2B prospects

Achieving Prospecting Success by Segmentation – 20

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

This past Monday we looked at how to tailor your approach to engaging with different segments in your potential buyer pool.  Monday we looked at the readiest segment of three groups you are likely to encounter in the course of prospecting, those who are Actively Looking. The next segment is slightly larger, but brings a different set of challenges, this group is the Passively Looking segment. This group is aware that they will need to engage, to make a purchase decision, but do not have the same sense of urgency as the Actively Looking segment.

Those in this group may be planning an expansion or a new facility to open in 24 months, and what you sell is relegated to be purchased six months before opening; or they have a piece of equipment that will need to be replaced in say 18 months; or any scenario where the potential prospect believes they have the luxury of time. Last time it took them six to nine months to select and buy, as a result their mind set is they have nine months before they need to fully engage. This group may be 20% or more of any given segment.

I find many sellers fall into one of two groups. The first are those who when they hear 18 months, think their “sales cycle” is usually three to six months, so they abandon the opportunity to look for Actively Looking prospects. The second, believe that their “solution” is “so right”, that they spend their time trying to convince the buyer that they should make their purchase now. Ignoring the buyer and their organizations objectives, timing, budgeting and more. They figure if they can create “urgency”, everything will fall into place, after all, that’s what their brochure says.

The reality is that the Passively Looking buyer segment is full of potential as long as you understand what you are dealing with and adjust for it.

The first thing to take into account is that while at ties you can shorten the buyer’s timelines; it is the anomaly rather than the rule. This does not mean the first group has it right, you should not walk away or park the opportunity for later. But you have to be real and understand that most likely the deal will come in later, usually next year’s quota, not this year. But that’s not a bad thing, having a number of good and real opportunities lined up for next year will pay dividends. Even better, you have a real long runway to work with the prospect, educating, becoming a great resource in process of becoming their emotional favourite. You have the opportunity to prove your worth long before they a) have to pay for it; b) before the crowd shows up and starts pitching price. This is why the first group tends to lose, by the time they come back, when they estimated the buyer will be actively looking, you have built your credibility and dependence.

The other distraction for many is the “all or none” approach. They are so fixated on the “big prize”, that they miss opportunities to build a commercial relationship on small pieces at a time. Sure we all want to share the big solution, but the buyer has made it clear that is not going to happen for a time. But the more you understand their objectives, and how they plan to achieve them, the more you can introduce other ideas, things they have yet to consider, again challenging the premise, not the individual. In the process you can get them to consider things they can use now in their current setting, these can be small add-ons, software that enhances their current solution, ways of testing alternatives, and more. The result of this may not be big revenue, but it makes you a vendor, and incumbent, someone that will very much be included in the big discussion when it comes. And if the current incumbent waits, you could also be the one that sets the agenda for the big buy. A bit of revenue now, the set up for the ultimate decision. If you can make quota from others, ready to act now, position yourself as the emotional favourite with the Passively looking buyers, you will succeed now, and moving forward; everyone wants a blended pipeline, don’t they.

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video intro 2016

Prospecting Call Mistakes You Can Avoid #Video0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Making outbound prospecting calls can be challenging and stressful, for both the prospect and the rep making the call. To be more effective you need to change some things that may work in day to day life, even in a scheduled sales call, because this is not a scheduled call, so the dynamics will be different, and as a pro you have to make up for that difference. Take a look at the video below to learn to common mistakes to avoid.

Tell me what you think; and if you have doubts about what you heard, read what the University of San Francisco has to say about building credibility in prospecting calls.

Hey if you liked the segment and the ideas, join me this Wednesday, when I and dozens of other sales thought leaders share best practices during the Sales Acceleration Summit, the world’s largest on line sales event. Click here to see the agenda and to register. My session is on the Dynamics of Successful SDR and prospecting calls.

Disapproval thumbs down by a male executive.

Who Is That For, You or the Buyer?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Prospecting can be a nerve racking experience for many in sales, especially outbound telephone prospecting, which explains why so few are good at the practice. The rejection, the unknown, the boos looking at you output and shaking his head, and clock on the wall ticking louder and louder. This triggers series of primal responses from nesting and protection to fight-or-flight. Let’s be clear we’re not talking about fighting the customer, but fighting the urge to give up and go back to inbound prospecting, or perhaps flight to a better strategy and approach to telephone prospecting.

When the nerves kick in, we try to compensate for it and comfort ourselves in the hope that things will get better. But hope is really not a path to successful prospecting, and the best comfort comes from having a pipeline full of real opportunities. Most of the other comforts are really there to make the prospector feel better, not necessarily to improve the scenario and results. To do that you have to actually go the other way. While being counter intuitive may not be immediately comfortable, it will lead to more opportunities, which will in turn will allow you to indulge in some real comfort, no matter what that is for you.

So here are somethings you should stop doing specifically on a first call, things that may make you feel better and more comfortable, but has the opposite effect on the buyer, and thereby detrimental to your success. Your litmus test should be: “Is this for me or for the buyer?” If the answer is for the buyer, great; if the answer is you don’t know or for you, then cut it out, full stop. There is no grey, it truly is black and white, and any time you waste debating it is time you are not selling.

First off, stop asking the buyer how they are two seconds in to the call. Yes, I know we were brought up that way, Mom always told you to be polite. While I may agree with Mom that you should be courteous and respectful of the prospect, she probably wasn’t thinking that raising an outbound sales person. Asking that question consumes valuable seconds at the start of the call, and keeps the conversation from the focus, which is what is in in for the buyer, and how it helps them achieve their objectives. How they are, is not germane, and you know, there will be times when it they are jammed, feeling harassed, and all the question does is accentuates that. Whereas getting to the point of what’s in it for them, allows them to focus on that, which is what you want. If you want to feel how useless asking how they are, just think of the last time a duct cleaner asked you how you were.

litmus

Next pacifier that needs to go, asking them “is this a good time?” or “Do you have a couple of minutes?”. That’s like asking for the bullet to the head, might as well save the prospect the time and do it yourself. When we do outbound calling, to people who did not have us on their calendar, people who are trying to pack 16 hours into a ten-hour day, people who only see their kids awake on the weekend, time is a premium, and we are a disruption. So by definition they do not have time for the unknown, and at the time of the question in the call we are an unknown. Now if you started with what is in in for the buyer, and how it helps them achieve their objectives, they will make time. But again, you want to be polite and hope that they like you, instead of helping them like what you represent, you know a “solution”.

litmus

I know going cold turkey on these bad habits is hard, so here is something that will help you let off some social steam, make you feel better but not risk the call. Right where you would blurt out either of the above questions, and normally stop to wait for the answer, instead say “Thanks for taking my call.” Statement not a question, so you don’t have to stop, and you can get to what really counts, the real upside for the buyer.

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