EPISODE 365: Well-Known Sales Strategist Alice Heiman on How to Flourish By Avoiding Languishing Right Now

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on May 11, 2021. It featured Sales Expert Alice Heiman. Click here for a recent LinkedIn post Alice wrote.]

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ALICE’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “We are making sales harder than it needs to be. Things have changed and will continue to change. We can’t keep doing things that fail because it’s making us feel bad, and it’s part of the languish. We’re making our own mood worse because we’re piling failure on top of failure on top of failure. The optimal mindset for sales is what do my buyers need from me right now to engage them? How can I be interesting to them? How can I get them interested? How can I intrigue them? That’s what we have to do right now.”


Fred Diamond: It’s Thursday, so it’s our Optimal Sales Mindset webcast. Alice Heiman, it’s great to see you. You’ve been a frequent guest, of course, on the Sales Game Changers podcast. We’re talking today about languish, it’s an interesting time. We’re doing today’s interview in May of 2021, people, of course, are going to be listening to this well into the future.

First off, it’s great to see you, as always. Thank you again for the great job that you’re doing for sales professionals around the globe. What is languish? Why are we talking about that today?

Alice Heiman: “Gosh, I just don’t know if I can talk about it, Fred, because I’m languishing.” I know that people feel like that, and it’s a funny thing that people can’t put their finger on it, they’re just not exactly up to where they usually are. Maybe they don’t feel as happy, maybe they just don’t have the energy to do something and maybe they’re just procrastinating more than usual. Something isn’t right.

I read this New York Times article, and all of a sudden the lightbulb went off for me and I was like, “Holy cow, I’m languishing!” So what is that? Well, languishing is the space between thriving, doing great, I’m at my best, I’m loving life, things are good, business is good, and depression. As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of scope in there. That languishing could be really closer to depression or you could be really closer to thriving, but you’re just off.

I think that, Fred, a lot of people are feeling this today. In sales, it’s impacting our results because languish is not the optimal mindset.

Fred Diamond: One thing that we’ve talked about a lot is mental illness and mental challenges that people have been dealing with. As you know, we’ve been starting the Optimal Sales Mindset webcast now for a year. Prior to the pandemic, we would do a session on mindset maybe once a year on a Friday. Right now, we’re doing one every single week.

People were talking about mental challenges that they’re facing and it was a huge topic during winter, and it’s still a huge topic because people haven’t seen each other. Then when you read this article on languishing, it’s interesting. It is in between flourishing and depression, and maybe this is where you are. It’s like you said, but the problem is it’s going to impact you as a sales professional.

We’re happy to have you on today, because we’re going to be talking about identifying it. But then, what can you be doing to get past it?

Alice Heiman: I think, as with anything, we have to identify the problem first before we can solve it. In sales, those of us who are the best at sales are really good at identifying problems, clarifying problems and then developing the best solutions for those problems. I think it’s the same when it comes to ourselves. But I think that so many people aren’t realizing yet that they’re there.

For myself, I kept asking myself, am I depressed? And I’d be like, “No, I’m not depressed, but what is it?” I can get on the phone or get on a webinar or podcast and be my lively self, but then when I’m done I’m just like, “Ugh” and I don’t want to do anything. My big projects that I have to sit quietly and work on, I just don’t have the motivation.

So I kept wondering, what is it? Is it just the pandemic? Is it because I’m in this room all by myself all day? I really didn’t know and I was struggling with it. When I read the article and started to realize, there are a lot of people in this mode.

Now, languish isn’t a new thing. It’s always been there, there are a lot of people who run that gamut between thriving, flourishing and depression. But because of the pandemic and because of the continuing situation, I think way more people are finding themselves there.

You and I both know that salespeople are usually pretty happy people, they have to be to do their job and they have a positive mindset, usually and they know how to get back in a positive mindset.

But the thing is, Fred, when you get into languish and you don’t even notice it, you’re not really sure, something isn’t right. I think the first step is ask yourself, am I languishing? If the answer is yes, which I’m going to guess it is, that’s probably why your numbers are off a little bit, your calls aren’t going as well as you’d like them to be, you’re not reaching as many people. Usually, you reach more people.

Think about it. If your mindset is such that you’re “blah” about things, not a lot of joy, it comes out, it oozes out of your pores. You’re trying to call somebody and get them excited, but you can’t get excited yourself. It’s hard.

Fred Diamond: There’s been some other challenges that probably contribute to it. In the Institute for Excellence in Sales, our listeners, our members, our sponsors are typically B2B in a lot of cases with large successful companies. People have been working and they’ve been also challenged with some other things. I want to talk to you about, first of all, the optimal sales mindset.

Again, today’s webcast is called Optimal Sales Mindset. Let’s put languish to the side for a second here. All things considered, give us some of your insights. You’ve been working with sales professionals, sales leaders, now you do a lot of work with CEOs of companies, you’ve been for a long time. That’s a big part of your focus right now and you speak at conferences. Is anyone is an expert, it’s Alice Heiman.

Talk about, in the perfect day, in the perfect world, what would the optimal sales mindset look like and how would it represent itself if you’re a sales leader or an online sales professional?

Alice Heiman:  We all know that an optimal mindset for sales is a positive one, but it’s not Pollyanna, so it’s not way over the top. We have to have a mindset that allows us to prioritize and focus. Our mindset has to be one of, I have a limited amount of time to get a lot of things done and I feel good about that, because I prioritize and then focus and then plan my days well. That mindset has to be there well planned out.

Then the mindset that people want to talk to me. That’s a very important mindset to have. The reason people want to talk to me is because I bring value and insight and I help them solve problems. Those two pieces together. We can’t just, “People want to talk to me because I’m a great salesperson.” People want to talk to me is the mindset I need, and there is a reason because I bring it. I bring value, I help them solve problems, I help them make decisions.

That’s where we have to be when we start thinking about an optimal mindset for sales. But we also have to have that realism in that everybody I talk to doesn’t have the same problem and isn’t going to solve it in the same way. It’s so important, Fred, to have the mindset of I’m going to talk to these people, understand their problem as thoroughly as I can and help them understand their problem better. Talk about what solutions are potential solutions for them, mine being one of them, and build a strong relationships regardless of whether they buy from me or not.

I think that’s one of the mindset pieces that’s missing so often, Fred, is that we think, this person’s not going to buy from me, just get off the phone. Talk to them, you see it’s not a good fit, exit gracefully leaving them with some resources or some other help that they can get or something so that in the future, they would talk to you again or they would refer you. That mindset of this may not be my customer, but they may be someone who can refer me or the may be my customer later.

That mindset is a really important one for sales too. There’s a lot to it and we need to be intentional about our mindset for sales.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that came in from Carry, and you just started to hit on this. She goes, “I look at my prospects in the long-term, that’s something that’s significantly helped me with my mindset.” Again, most of the people watching today or listening to the podcast are in B2B or enterprise sales. It may take you 42 touches, it may take you years. If you’re in it for the long term, this may not be a win.

But I have a little bit of a follow-up question there. What are your suggestions on celebrating little victories? Knowing that they may not be a customer for a year, two, three or something like that. Do you celebrate that they picked up the phone? Do you celebrate that they replied to an email? When I see a prospect replying to an email for me, I’m thrilled.

Talk a little bit about the long run, and then talk a little bit about minor celebrations along the way.

Alice Heiman: Most of us do have long sales cycles and it could be years before the people we’re talking to need what we have. It is important to build the relationship and maintain it, and part of that is a mindset. Knowing that they will buy when they are ready because we have a solution that fits.

Instead of feeling down about it or trying to create urgency, that is not a mindset I want salespeople to have. You cannot create urgency, your customers buy when they’re ready. So unless you’re having a sale and the price is going to change and go away, really, I don’t know. And that’s not going to drive most people anyway in a complex sale, because it’s much more than price, it’s a lot of other decisions.

We really have to be sensitive to that, and that is a mindset you need to have. Be sensitive to the buyer, and I always say that close dates come from customers, not quotas. That’s a mindset to have. If we’re going to be in it for the long haul, we do have to celebrate those small moments.

I’m a big believer in joyful moments, a lot of small joyful moments add up to happiness. Right now, when people are languishing, we need to bring more joy into our life. We need to bring more happiness in and we have to do that ourselves. So yes, I am a celebrator, I love to celebrate things. I think of all kinds of things to celebrate. In fact, I have this little bell on my desk that I can ring whenever I want to celebrate something. I also have some other fun things around me that help me celebrate.

I think that being in it for the long haul and knowing that a lot of emails won’t get answered, a lot of calls won’t get returned, you won’t reach people, they might reject your LinkedIn connection. Knowing all of that, you find your own moments of joy throughout the day. Yes, when someone responds, yay!

Fred Diamond: That is a win, man. I used to have an expression that you don’t have to be happy all the time to be happy. Things come along the way, you have a network problem or a printer goes down but you can still be happy. One of the books that I refer to all the time is Marci Shimoff, Happy for No Reason. A lot of salespeople like that attitude.

I’ve got a question here that’s coming in from Jessie. The question is, “It seems to be harder getting in touch with people and that’s been a challenge.” Talk about that for a second.

Again, we’re talking to Alice Heiman. You’ve worked with tens of thousands of companies and sales professionals. I’m not going to date you because you look radiant and amazing as always [laughs] but you’ve worked with so many companies and you know the process, you’ve seen it all. Talk a little bit about the challenge of getting in touch with people. Do you see that as a challenge? Is it just impacting Jessie? What are some of your thoughts on getting through?

Alice Heiman: It is a challenge because of the way we’re doing it. We are making sales harder than it needs to be. Years ago, however many years ago since you and I have been selling, or anybody who’s listening has been selling. Even if it was five years ago, ten years ago, even if it was just pre-COVID, things have changed. And things will continue to change, because that is the world that we live in.

Things have changed at a much more rapid pace because of the pandemic so what do we do? We have to be agile, we have to be flexible, we have to keep up. But here’s what we can’t do, we can’t keep doing things that fail because it’s making us feel bad, and I think it’s part of the languish.

What’s happened is the buyer has changed, the way we need to reach the buyer and engage the buyer and get them interested has changed, but we haven’t changed out method. Instead of changing and doing something better, we’re just pushing that ‘more’ button. “Better send some more emails, better do some more LinkedIn connections, better make some more phone calls.” More, more, more needs to stop.

We have to do it better. We’re making our own mood worse because we’re piling failure on top of failure on top of failure. “I sent a thousand emails this week and no one answered me, no one, zero.” I’m not surprised, because people like you and I have enough emails from clients that we have to answer. I’m not going to answer an email from a salesperson telling me all about their product or their service.

First of all, you didn’t give me anything to engage with. It wasn’t a conversation, it was like a billboard. If I even bother to read that billboard, which I probably didn’t, I don’t know what to do. Your call to action’s just, “Make an appointment with me.” I don’t even know who you are and you just made me read your billboard. We’ve got to stop doing stuff that doesn’t work, Fred, we have to stop and we have to start thinking about what will work.

The optimal mindset for sales is what do my buyers need from me right now to engage them? How can I be interesting to them? How can I get them interested? How can I intrigue them? That’s what we have to do right now. Our mindset has to be thinking, is this email going to intrigue anybody or just get them to hit delete?

Fred Diamond: Jane says thank you so much, she agrees with everything. It’s getting difficult to get in touch. We have a question here that comes in from Norm. Norm says, “What would Alice’s #1 feature be for top sales professionals?” That’s an interesting question. I’m going to put you on the spot here a little bit. Again, we’re talking today about mindset, but tomorrow we’re going to be talking about creativity and we’re going to be talking about tactics and how to speak to customers.

If you think about the tens of thousands of sales professionals that you’ve helped take their sales career to the next level, if you’re on an elevator and someone said, “Oh my god, you’re Alice Heiman. I’m in sales, what’s the one thing I should really focus on?” What would you say?

Alice Heiman: What I would say is you better understand your buyer better. That’s it, that’s what it comes down to today. I was just talking about this with some folks earlier and honestly, we spend so much time teaching salespeople about our product and service, about our company history, about our culture – which are all good things. Don’t get me wrong, we’d better do that, don’t stop doing that.

We teach them some techniques for selling and how to use LinkedIn, but what we don’t teach them is what a day in the life of the buyer is like. What else we don’t teach them is to continue learning, researching and growing so that they know what’s happening in the industry.

For example, somebody said earlier, it’s getting harder and harder to reach buyers. Yes, the way we’re doing it is getting harder and harder but there are ways to do it and this is one of them. One, understand a day in the life of the person that you’re selling to or the group of people, each one having their own job at their company. What is their day like? What plagues them? How bombarded are they daily with all kinds of different things? What do they care about? What are they interested in?

But then be interesting by informing yourself. Every sales leader out there that’s listening, you better make sure every one of your sales rep has time on their calendar every single week, and I’d say do it at the start of the week, to read what’s happening in the industry. To read what’s happening to their customers, to their prospects and be knowledgeable about what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in the industry and how it might impact the person they’re going to be talking to, and the people that that person sells to.

For example, just world events being what they are, how is that impacting your particular business? Is it making it better? Is it making it harder? Is it making it easier? What’s going on? If I don’t have any of that information, which most salespeople don’t, because they don’t have time in their day to read and learn and watch webinars and keep themselves up to date in the industry, I can’t be interesting. All I can talk about is my own products and service, I’ve got nothing else.

Fred Diamond: Some of the best sales leaders and the best sales professionals I know, they know their market place intimately, they’ve been selling into their market place intimately for years maybe from company to company, it doesn’t really matter. They understand what the customer’s going through and they have that curiosity and the interest.

Alice, you mentioned leaders so let’s talk about sales leaders. We have a lot of sales leaders that listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast. What are some of your tips for how a leader can determine if the people on their team is languishing?

I can’t believe this, we’ve been doing a webinar every single day for more than a year. Talk for a second or two about leaders and how they can figure out where their people are. Because it’s very rare that they’ve met over the last year. Every once in a while someone said we did a virtual, social distance.

Of course, they’re talking to their people but a chunk of time on a screen like you and I are looking on right now. Give us some advice on how leaders can understand where their people are.

Alice Heiman: Obviously, first of all, understand where you are. Are you flourishing, thriving? Are you depressed? Are you somewhere in between, are you languishing? Because it’s going to be hard if you can’t identify for yourself where you are on that scale, how are you going to identify anybody else? But it is important because again, going back to optimal mindset.

If your salespeople are not hitting their numbers, if they’re not doing the right activity right, if they’re continuing to do things that don’t work and not bringing that to you and saying, “This doesn’t work anymore. Can we do something else?” If those kinds of things are happening, then you have to start to question their mental health, their wellbeing, their mindset around sales.

Sometimes it’s not a big serious mental health issue, it’s just simply their mindset around sales is instead of, “People want to talk to me because I add value and insight” their mindset has become, “Nobody wants to talk to me.” The minute you think no one wants to talk to you, trust me, no one wants to talk to you because you’re oozing that out of your pores, so stop it.

As the leader, know where you are and fix that first, always. As I always say, the flight attendant tells you, put your own oxygen mask on first. Then you can help the others around you. Then, as you look at each and every one of your salespeople and you’re thinking to yourself, “How are they doing compared to the way they were doing pre-COVID?” If they’re new, you won’t know but how are they doing against these measures that we have in place?

How do they seem when you see them on video? Are they responsive? Are they playful on Slack? Do they ever send a cute GIF or do they just ignore all that stuff, do they put a thumbs-up? Look at their behaviors. Then if you’re thinking maybe they’re languishing, simply start asking them some questions. How are you feeling? How do you think your mindset is around sales these days? What do you think is hard? What’s challenging? And see what they say.

As you talk to them, and you’re not talking about whether they hit their quota this week. You’re talking to them about them and their own feelings and how they’re doing and how they’re approaching their job and what they’d like to learn or how they’d like to change their mindset, what they need help with. You’ll start to get that information that you need to know if they are stuck in languishing. If they are, then noticing it is the first step and then we can do something.

Fred Diamond: Again, we’re talking to Alice Heiman who’s my most frequent guest on the Sales Game Changers podcast and you can understand why from the first 20-somewhat minutes. Alice, we have a bunch of questions here.

This is a great question that comes in from Savannah, and Savannah is a frequent listener and attendee at IES programs. She asks an interesting question, it’s a long question. She goes, “How can I take off and not feel guilt?” Thank you so much, Savannah, for that honest question, but it’s an interesting question.

Now that it’s spring, people are able to get out and people are getting vaccinated. But if you’re listening to this webcast right now or the podcast, you’re committed at some level to your career so I applaud you, as does Alice. But let’s talk about what Savannah asked there. To be honest with you, if I’m not working from 9:00 to 5:00 during the week, if I take a second off…

Alice Heiman: Nine to five? How about seven to seven?

Fred Diamond: I’m just talking in general, but back to you. Alice, how do you help sales professionals feel comfortable that they’re allowed to take a few moments off and take a break?

Alice Heiman: Savannah, first of all, I’m going to tell you just do it. Get away and just feel guilty first and then let it go. But let’s dive into that. First of all, let’s think about this. Whatever job you’re doing, you have priorities and you know that to get those priorities done, you’ve got to set your day and your week up in a certain way.

If you plan to take off – which you should, because you need that time off, your brain needs that time to rest and relax. It’s the old adage of why do we get our best ideas in the shower, because we’re not staring at a screen and thinking about a specific problem, we’re just free-forming. We need that time to get our best ideas.

In the Creativity in Sales podcast we talk a lot about that, I’ve been on that show before too. How do you get great ideas? You have to give yourself time if you want great ideas. If you’re busy every moment, you don’t have time for great ideas to come into your head. You’ve got to give yourself a time and vacation time, an afternoon off, a walk, all of those things are great ways to let your brain have some great ideas.

But how do you do it without feeling guilty? You get your priorities straight and you get your day and your week and your month and your year set up so that you can operate at your optimal level. Then you plan in your time off. You start to look and go, “I don’t want to go more than three weeks without having some time off.”

Some of us, especially if you own your own business, you may work on the weekends. So just taking a weekend off and planning to do that might be a huge deal, Fred. Savannah, think about how much you’re working, how much you need to work. If you feel like there’s too much to get done in a 45-to-50-hour week, maybe 60 which is what a lot of salespeople work, then maybe you ought to talk to your boss about that.

There really is too much work here for any one human being to do in this amount of hours. Or maybe you need to look at how you’re doing it, is it efficient? Could you be more efficient? But if you plan, then you can take off without guilt. It’s hard, I know because it’s hard for me to do it, but you let people know you’re going to be gone, you figure out a coverage plan, you get everything organized ahead of time and then you just go. It’s all going to be there when you get back.

If your company can’t handle you taking a week off, there’s a much bigger problem than you taking the week off. Now, if you’re in a culture that doesn’t support you taking a week off, Savannah, then I think that you may want to consider finding a culture that does. It might just be in your own head that your culture doesn’t support you taking a week off, but I’m going to bet that your culture does.

So don’t feel guilty, feel proud, feel happy when you can take the time off because that’s when you’re going to refresh and that’s when good ideas are going to come in. You’ll be able to go back to your job feeling even better and you’ll be able to do an even better job than if you don’t take the time off. You should actually feel guilty that you’re not taking time off, Savannah [laughs].

Fred Diamond: Savannah says thank you so much. Kyle’s in hospitality and he said, “I just did that, I went to a really beautiful hotel in Philadelphia just to recharge, rest and think to myself how can I keep hospitality in my heart during these times.” There are some industries that have gotten hit very hard, obviously hospitality, entertainment in a lot of ways, the resorts.

I didn’t mention this before, but Alice, you’re also a member of the IES Women in Sales advisory board, so I want to thank you for your help with that. We’re really thrilled with the advisory board that Gina Stracuzzi has pulled together. Every Tuesday we do a webinar for women in sales.

We’ve got time for one last question. “Can connecting with customers outside of a sales call not only help sales reps better-understand customer needs but also help a sales rep move out of a languish state?” That’s a great question, that’s coming in from Tania. Interesting question about relationships.

We’ve gone back and forth, I don’t want to address this one right now with the whole, “How are you?” thing. I’m like, you know what? Ask people how are you on text, on phone. Talk about conversations with customers that aren’t like, “Hey, customer, this is a fifth in a series of eight calls, I’ve thought about your challenge.” Talk a little bit about that.

Alice Heiman: As humans, we just want to relate, we want to find things we have in common, we want to chat. We have that need, even as introverts we still have that great need to connect. That connection does come from being eyeball to eyeball, being in the same space with each other, doing something fun together occasionally, not always talking about business.

It’s a little harder to do in this virtual world that we live in right now, but it is important and we still need to build relationships. I think with your customers, people who already buy from you, it’s extremely important for you to offer them time to chat. Don’t think they don’t want it, because they do.

I have specifically asked in several industries to the people who buy from my customers, “Do you ever want an opportunity just to hang out with the salesperson, just to chat with the people and not be talking about business?” They’re like, 100%, I do.

Think about things you could do that would be fun. Have a coffee meeting and let’s say you sell to sales enablement and you know four or five sales enablement people from different customers who you think would like to know each other. Have a coffee and say, “Hey, I’m just inviting my customers that have sales enablement roles to talk together today over coffee. I’m just facilitating that conversation because I thought it would be fun.”

Or hold some sort of a fun event online, it could be maybe a wine tasting, could be a book club. Offer to them, they don’t have to say yes but say, “I thought it would be really fun since we don’t have any trade shows to go to and we can’t go to dinner, I thought we’d do an online book club. Would you like to join?”

Just like you would with a friend, these people are your business friends and you are building a relationship, maintaining a relationship that they want as much as you do. Because that relationship helps them use your product better and helps you help them move through their organization and do things they need to do.

I do think it’s important for you to offer some other opportunities. As we are able to get out and get together a little bit more, you can do small gatherings but you can still do these things online. Just have a coffee chat, just have a happy hour. Bring the beverage of your own choice to happy hour, do a book club, do something to get connected and feel connected.

If they’re prospects, if you’re going to get together with a few sales enablement folks to talk about sales enablement over coffee, invite a prospect. Say, “I do this thing with my sales enablement friends and my different clients and I thought you might like to meet them and network with them.” That’s just one idea, but try to come up with something, some way to connect because humans want that connection.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. When you think about all the customers that you’ve had, not every customer is thinking of, “I remember when Joe came to our office and he put up that slide and he showed the return on investment.” A lot of times, it goes back to, “Remember the time that we were at the suite at the game?” or, “That you introduced me to…”

I remember once I had a client, I was a marketing consultant at the time and helped this guy reform his business and marketing strategy. I remember he said to me, “Do you know what the most important thing was that you did for me over the last two years?” I said, “Well, it was the McKinsey-like study that I did.”

Alice Heiman: “That PowerPoint slide I made you.”

Fred Diamond: [Laughs] he goes, “No.” I go, “I rethought your messaging into various audiences.” He goes, “Yeah, that was helpful, but no. The most important thing is when you made that introduction to Joe Smith who I’ve been trying to get to for years. All the other stuff was great, but that introduction allowed me to…”

He didn’t hire me to introduce him to Joe Smith but in being conscious of what would help him grow his business, the introduction. I wasn’t strategically thinking, “How do I make sure I get him to Joe Smith?” I was like, “I know Joe Smith. Hey, Joe, do you mind meeting with Mike?” And boom.

Today we talked on the Sales Game Changers podcast with the great Alice Heiman. I want to thank you, Alice, so much. I’ve applauded you every time you’re on the show because I feel so strongly about the value that you’ve brought to tens of thousands of sales professionals and CEOs and sales enablement professionals in your career. And you’re continuing to do with your counseling and your coaching and your training and your advisory services.

Alice, give us one final thought. Something actionable, something people could do right now after listening to the webcast or the podcast to take their sales career to the next level.

Alice Heiman: There are so many things, but based on the conversation we’ve had today, the one that I really want to leave everybody with is give yourself a break. Just take a break. Make sure you’ve got breaks planned in so that your brain has a chance to rest, review, refresh, think of new things. Just give yourself a break. It will also help if you are languishing to just cut yourself some slack, give yourself a break, take some time.

Ten minutes helps. Sit in the backyard, the weather’s getting good everywhere so start being outside if you haven’t been. Some of us, it’s been our saving grace to be outside but just give yourself a break. If you are languishing, take some action. Talk to somebody about it.

I’ll give Fred a link to a post I actually made which has the link to the New York Times article and then it also has some specific action items that you can do if you are languishing. Just give yourself a break.

Fred Diamond: Jane says, “It’s nap time, I’m going to take my break.” Alice, thank you so much. To all of our listeners, to Cox Business, thank you so much.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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