EPISODE 533: Everything You Need to Know about High Trust Selling with Todd Duncan

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on April 21, 2022, featuring Todd Duncan, author of High Trust Selling.]

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TODD’S TIP: “Turn down the promotion, turn up the emotion. At some level, every product and service that is represented by this podcast’s audience has a chance for a deeper emotional connection with a client. What ends up happening is there’s so much promotion, there’s so much auto marketing, there’s so much stuff we send out that just ends up being noise. I’ve always been about more from less, how do you get more out of less people? How do you get more out of less activities? How do you get more out of a conversation? I can tell you right now with absolute certainty that when people connect, they convert. I would tell everybody that, ask different questions. Connect to the heart before you even try to sell to the head. If you connect to the heart, the head will follow, you’re going to win and your clients are going to win.”


Fred Diamond: Todd, it’s an honor to have you here. We’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of your New York Times best seller, High Trust Selling. By way of introduction, Todd helps people fall in love with their life by maximizing their efficiency, compensation and earning, what they’re truly worth and live life to the fullest. I’ll tell you, man, there’s nothing wrong with having people love their life, especially with everything that’s going on and at a tough profession in a world that is absolutely crazy. We’re doing the interview in April of 2022. It’s crazy time not just for salespeople, but for the world. It’s good to see you. Congratulations on your success, you look great.

I’m excited for this. I actually worked out this morning because I know it’s going to be a high energy 25 to 30 minutes. The great Todd Duncan, the holy grail sales influence. Let’s get to the book. Why has it why has High Trust Selling lived on for the 20 years? Why has it continued to be such a great resource for salespeople?

Todd Duncan: Thanks so much for having me on. The answer is pretty clear. When I wrote the book, it was like, “I want to write a book that even if I were to die, the day after it being published, the laws in this book, the principles in this book would last forever.” That was the approach I had. We began looking at what are the fundamental principles? It’s clear that principles are more important than methods. If you understand principles, then you can deploy a lot of different methods. If you don’t understand the principles, methods are only going to get you busy, and they’re not going to get you the results.

When we wrote the book, the book was written around principles that will never ever change. Like any law, there’s consequences, both positive and negative. Then we said, what would be the perfect blend of laws? We didn’t have a number, but we had researched about 75,000 salespeople throughout America, and we had a line in the sand. If you made over $250,000 in sales commissions, here’s what you did. If you made less than $250,000 in sales commissions, this is what you didn’t do. That became the separator. Then we broke the book into personal mastery, business mastery, time mastery, and relationship mastery. Then the 14 laws that made it to the cut were laws that helped you in each of those four categories. We call them the core four. Any sales professional needs to understand that it’s life first, it’s business second, it’s time third, and then it’s clients fourth.

If you don’t do the first three, the clients are going to get shortchanged, they’re never going to be as loyal as they could be, and you’re going to be working your whole life. The other thing that the book does is it says, “What would it be like if you could accelerate your sales results?”  I make a claim that, “Why work for $100 an hour when you can work for $1,000 an hour?” Or, “Why work for a million-dollar contract, while you could work for a $2 million contract, same time?” 

Get good, get great, and get faster performance and faster results. You know this, nobody in the sales world ever gets a plaque for working the most hours or being the busiest. We are measured on our productivity. Period. The more productive we are, the better our life is. That’s why the book has lasted. It’s very rare that a business book lasts more than three or four years, let alone 20. It’s even rarer that the book is still selling, even though it’s still in print and selling 1000s of copies a month. It works and it gives people a sustainable business plan that lasts forever. You don’t have to keep working at it. Once you get it going, the system is built and let’s do it.

Fred Diamond: The book’s been out there for 20 years. What have people told you? You’ve trained tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people virtually and live and in person over the years. What has been the response from people out there who have enabled your system? What are some of the things that they’ve said to you that maybe surprised you along the way?

Todd Duncan: Today in over 12 countries and the book in 51 languages, we have 5 million clients. Here’s what I hear, “Business is easier.” I hear that. I hear, “I’m making more money and not working as hard.” I hear that all the time. I hear, “I finally have time for my health and my family.” I hear that all the time. I hear, “I understood vision when you first started talking about, but I had no idea that my sales would go from $7 million to $233 million after two years of studying high trust.”

You look at that, and you go, “What would it be like? Imagine a life in which you could make more money, work fewer hours, have less stress, and more fun.” Who would not sign up for that? Everybody, when they get through this system finally says, “I now believe it’s possible.” Yet, as well as I do that, you got to believe it at the start. We make a promise. The promise is, if you follow the 14 laws and you achieve skill mastery of each of the 14, you will watch your work hours go down, average work hour decrease 11 hours a week, average hourly rate income increase in 90 days, 800%. You just look at that, and you go like, “What is 24/7?”

Well, it’s 24 hours a week and seven months a year. If I can make a lot of money in 24 hours a week and seven months a year following high trust, why would I work 40 hours a week and 12 months a year? That’s the gist of the whole thing.

Fred Diamond: I’m tempted to ask you this question. You might have just answered it. Thinking of the classic answer, explain it by standing on one foot. It’s like, “Do unto others as they do unto you.” Tell me your philosophy. I know you mentioned the 14 principles, and it’s broken down into four. I’m curious, if you were to stand on one foot, and I would say, “Todd Duncan, tell me your philosophy on sales success,” what would you say?

Todd Duncan: There’s an ancient scripture that I go by that says, “The generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” I guess if you were to turn that into one simple phrase, you can’t get unless you first give. I believe that people need to make a distinct decision between why they’re in sales in the first place. Are you in sales to make money? Are you in sales to close deals? Are you in sales to give orders? Or are you in sales to transform people’s life through the use of your product or service, whatever that might be? I take the spotlight off of me, I put it on the client.

If you take care of the client, the client will take care of you. That’s the philosophy. It also has to do a lot with the value interchange. If I’m trying to disrupt and differentiate myself in whatever my market position is, product, service, or otherwise, I want to be thought of as a value creator, not a revenue taker. What I found is if you’re a value creator, the revenue comes. I’ve also found out that you can pursue transactions and make a living, but you can pursue relationships and make a fortune. That in a nutshell, is the sales philosophy of high trust.

Fred Diamond: We talk about value creation all the time. We had the great Neil Rackham on our stage, Neil Rackham of SPIN Selling. The very first thing we ever did as an Institute for Excellence in Sales was have Neil Rackham come to speak. I very clearly remember him saying, “Sales is all about value creation.” Explain what that means. The reason I’m asking you that question, it may seem like an obvious question, but there’s a lot of people who are listening to today’s show, Todd Duncan, who are in the early stages of their sales career. They just went through two years and continuing to have sales calls like this, not everybody’s back.

They haven’t met their manager in a year and a half, two years. Some people started their sales career in the pandemic. Imagine that, they haven’t been to the office yet, whatever it might be. Describe what value creation means. Explain it at a second grade level so that people truly understand it.

Todd Duncan: Value creation is simply the art of changing the kind of questions you ask so you can hear the kind of things your clients want to say, so you can solve the things you’ve never solved. Our formula is ask questions you’ve never asked. Learn things you’ve never learned. Solve things you’ve never solved.  Value creation is in essence that.

I’ll give you an example. If I want to sit down with a client and I want to be involved in value creation in a business review meeting, or just in a conversation. I could say, “Listen, Joe, based on where your business is right now, and the market we’re in and the economy we’re in, where would you like your business to be one year from now? What are the top three things that are important to you? How can I help add value to those areas?” That is as blatant and as simple as I can make it. If I don’t ask you what’s important to you, and this is like sales 101.

Most people spend far too much time talking, and particularly new salespeople, because they have that pressure to “sell”. Really, to demystify the sales profession is to simply take the word sell and re spell it H-E-L-P. My job is to help my clients win. If I help my clients win, I’m automatically going to be in value creation. You got to really listen. I’ll give you another example. I’m working with a CEO of a $40 billion company, and I’m having a conversation with her. During the conversation, she says, “I wish I had a crystal ball.” If I’m really an astute listener, I hear, “I wish I had a crystal ball.” Now, there’s nothing I can do to tell you what the future is going to be like. What I can do is to ask a question. What are the three or four areas in your business that you wish you had more clarity around? As soon as she tells me these things, I’m going to write them down.

Then I’m going to go to work creating value based on those three things. Timeout, in the middle of that, I’m going to have one of my assistants come in, I’m going to say “I want you to go to the Z gallery, I want you to find a five inch globe that is crystal, I want you to buy a sterling silver stand for it and I want to ship the crystal ball on the sterling silver stand to Melissa so that she can have it on her desk.” Now watch this. Every time she looks at the crystal ball, who is she thinking about? She’s thinking about me and the fact that I asked her what are the top four areas that you wish you had more clarity on.

It just gets down to value creation, if you just throw it out there is really difficult for people to get their head around. The beautiful thing about high trust selling is if you really connect, and you then collaborate, your clients will tell you everything they need for you to give them from a value standpoint. Usually it’s over and beyond the product or service.

Fred Diamond: Todd, we hear a lot of statistics here. I had somebody on my show earlier this week who said that statistics show only 30% of sales professionals are reaching their quotas right now. That could be higher or lower, it doesn’t really matter. Basically, it’s probably at least less than half of sales professionals. I’m just curious on your thoughts here. Can anybody put your 14 principles and play along with the process and be successful in sales? Or are there still things, maybe like intrinsic curiosity, we talk about a lot. We talk about courage and fear and all those things. Just curious, could you train anybody to be great at sales? Or do you really have to come with the goods to get going, and then your system will help them perfect and excel?

Todd Duncan: First of all, everybody sells. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, partners, everybody sells. Kids are selling parents, parents are selling kids. Everybody sells. If we’re talking about getting into the sales profession, the one thing that we can’t give you, anybody who might be thinking about selling, is desire. I don’t think that we can give you belief. You’re going to have to believe that something is bigger and better than where you are right now to even have an appetite to learn the 14 laws. If you have desire and you like people, and you have a desire to not only win but help others win, then absolutely all 14 laws can apply. The interesting thing about reaching quota is the first problem.

We talked about this in one of my other New York Times bestsellers, which is called Time Traps. This trap is called the quota trap. The quota trap is a trap that salespeople get into when all they’re thinking about is their quota. What they have to be thinking about is their impact. Quota takes care of itself.  Sales goals takes care of itself if you make an impact. We tell people, and I’ll just be super generic, “If I need to close a deal a day and I realize that everything together gives me four opportunities with four unique clients a day, I’ve got to figure out what does it take from a high trust selling standpoint, to have one out of those four, say yes, go to PO, contract, whatever and be done.” What we tell people is, “Don’t take that four to eight to double your business. Keep it at four and do better. Ask different questions. Listen more effectively, talk less and then take that four from one contract to two.” Now I’ve just doubled my sales effectiveness without doubling my time commitment, and therein lies the deal.

The deal is don’t work harder, work smarter. I know it sounds trite, but in order to work smarter, you have to be able to get people engaged. Here’s what I would say to anybody that’s not making quota. Do a little analysis on how much time you spend talking, and how much time you spend listening. I love game changers, because we tell people, if you could take your word count as a seller from 100 down to 80, you would get a higher conversion rate.

Our number after 50,000 surveys is 17%, 17% say yes. If I took that down from 80, to 70, to 60, to 50, to 40, to 30, to 20, and I used 80 less words, but I formulated game changing questions, then my conversion rate actually goes to 77%. That’s three out of four people say yes by changing the sales dialogue. You want to talk about a game changer? That’s a game changer and here’s the philosophy, talk less, sell more. When you talk less, you have to ask better questions, and then you have to replace the talk time with the listen time. That’s where conversion happens. It’s pretty straightforward. Anybody can do it, as long as they have desire and as long as they like people.

Fred Diamond: I want to ask you a little bit of different question. We’ve a lot of sales leaders, sales managers who listen to The Sales Game Changers Podcast, and they read the transcripts as well. The hardest job in sales, of course, is the first-time sales manager, it’s been even harder in the last few years because you only see your people on a rectangle for the most part. A lot of people have been thrown into sales management. It’s the least trained position that there is in sales. I’m just curious, what would be your guidance for sales leaders, more effectively, first-level sales managers?

Todd Duncan: There’s three things that come to mind immediately. One is this idea of taking that all familiar 80/20 rule and starting to really realize what your sales distribution looks like. A lot of leaders don’t really get this early on. It’s like if that Pareto principle is true, which we know it is, the question is, where are you leading? One of the philosophies that we teach sales leaders is give your best to your best to get the rest of what they have to give to you. Don’t give your best to your worst unless they are going to be one of your best. If any sales leader wrote down, “Here’s the 10 salespeople that I have on my team. Here’s the top producer, and here’s the lowest producer.”

I’m going to move these names over here and now I’m going to order them in terms of where I spend the most time. Then I tell them to connect the names. What they’re going to find real quickly is most of my time is going into most of the salespeople that are producing the fewest results. Then what that gets to is, what percentage of that sales team would actually be better on a top producers team? Instead of you being so low down there, and you’re number nine out of 10, what would happen if I backfilled you behind number one and you became a sales assistant, and your dreams came through anyway? We tell people that.

Then the other thing is, the more you know about the people you serve, the better you can serve them. Sales leadership is about understanding that you can’t move anybody physically. You can’t say, “Go do this and improve your sales.” Or, “Try this and improve your sales.” Or, “Memorize the script and improve your sales.” What you have to do is you have to ask the question, “Tell me why you got into sales in the first place. What is super important to you that you achieve in your career? Why is that important?” 

I know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and where you want to go. Then every idea I give you I can tie to that. I can’t move somebody physically, unless I first connect with them emotionally. That’s the best sales leadership I’ve ever had. Then the final thing, we probably all have hired the wrong people. What I tell sales leaders, and I think this is a gem, Fred. The most expensive time in a sales leader’s life is the time between when he or she gives up on somebody and does something about it.

Far too often I go like, “How long have you been thinking about firing someone? How many times has this come up? Have you emotionally checked out on somebody on your team? Why are you paying somebody that you don’t think is going to make it?” The interesting thing for sales leaders is the more time I give to the people that are in that profile, the rest of the team goes, “Wow, all I have to do is be a loser in sales, be a high maintenance sales associate and I get all my leaders’ time.” Then the top producers go, “Wow, I wonder why he’s not giving me or she’s not giving me the same time they’re giving to this person who’s never going to make it.”

Somewhere in there, even though I shared an extreme analogy, is truth. The truth is, if you don’t think somebody should be on your team, they should not be on your team as long as you have done everything professionally responsible of you to help that person win. If they’re not going to win, if they can’t win, and they can’t make the grade, you’re better off letting them go. It’s better for them. It’s ultimately better for you and your team.

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, I was in marketing at Apple Computer and Compaq in the earlier part of my career. I made the decision, because I controlled the marketing dollars, that I was going to support the top 20% of salespeople. If somebody’s struggling at number 30 or something, I wasn’t going to spend money to do events or advertising. All of my marketing dollars, for the most part, went to the highest performing reps because they were going to be bringing in a percent of my marketing dollars. As you answered that question, Todd Duncan, I’m reminded of one of the things that you say that I’m actually very excited about, I want to you explain this a little bit. You’ve often said there’s a major difference between a salesperson in business and being in business as a salesperson. Talk about the dichotomy of that.

Todd Duncan: We call it in our coaching company, the million-dollar question. What we mean by that is the question is worth seven figures of income. We get people’s attention by saying, “Would you like to know the difference?” It sounds awfully close. Are you a salesperson in business? Or are you in business as a salesperson? The idea is that if you see yourself as a salesperson first and a businessperson second, you’re going to have a non growth mindset, you’re going to have an employee mindset, you’re going to have a compliance mindset. There’s nothing wrong with compliance, but that’s going to be your mindset. You’re going to expect the company to do everything for you, instead of you taking ownership of your own career.

If I just for a moment flip it, and I say, “The first thing I am, is I’m a business. The business requires a marketing plan, it requires a business plan, it requires scripts and dialogues, it requires tracking measurement, it requires investment of dollars. It requires all of that. Oh, by the way, I’m going to make money for this business by whatever it is I sell.” I can apply this to a salesperson. I can apply it to one of the clients we coach and I told him 11 years ago, I said, “You’re either a dentist in business, or you’re in business as a dentist. Right now, I don’t think you’re in business as a dentist. The reason I know is because you bitch and complain all day long about everything you have to do. It doesn’t bring you joy and success. What brings you joy and success?”

He said, “The thing I like the most is restorative dentistry.” I said, “What do you like the least?” He says, “Drilling and filling.” I go, “That’s the problem. If you’re a business, then you’re going to say, I’m not drilling and filling. I can have cheaper labor on my team that can drill and fill, I can have a couple other younger doctors that are going to take over my practice in 30 years. I’m going to do the one thing that pays the highest revenue that I can bill insurance that I enjoy.”

It just so happens when those two things come into sync, you’re now a business. Now you’re doing not only the thing that generates money for the business, but you’re doing the single thing that is more important than the 20 things that generate money, and you have joy. This guy went from a $750,000, top line gross revenue to last year $13 million in revenue with a bottom line of 3.1 and he’s working less hours. He saw the dental business as less of a medical practice and more of a business.

We have a million stories like that, Fred. That’s the difference. When you see yourself as a business, you’re self-employed, you’re an owner, you’re the CEO of your own brand. It’s up to you to invest, the best investment you can make is the investment in you. It outperforms any stock play all day long, 40, 50, 60% gains.

Fred Diamond: You’ve got to think of yourself as the CEO of Todd Duncan Industries, or whatever it might be. I know you have the 30th anniversary of The Sales Mastery Event coming up as well. We just talked about the 20th anniversary of High Trust Selling. I want to talk about the 30th anniversary of Sales Mastery. I want to ask you one more question before we get to that and before I ask you for your final action step.

We didn’t really talk about it too much today, but I want you to touch on relationships. You said before that you can make a living with a lot of transactions, but a fortune with relationships. You’ve talked about a number of different ways that salespeople can take their careers to the next level. Talk a little bit about relationships today and how people should be viewing them. Then I want you to talk about, the 30 year of the mastery, and then we’ll wind down with your final action step.

Todd Duncan: Thank you for that, Fred. For me, it was like a decision early in my career when my mentor said, “You can pursue either one, just decide.” I asked him, I said, “Clarify that for me.” He told me the same thing, “You can make a living pursuing transactions, but you can make a fortune pursuing relationships.” I made the relationship decision. A couple things happen. If I’m in the relationship business, I’m going to add more value to fewer prospects. If I’m in the relationship business, I’m going to ask questions that I normally don’t ask because I want to have deeper, longer bonds of loyalty with customers. If somebody needs my product and service once, there’s a good chance they’re going to need it twice, or some derivative of that.

There’s a really good chance that they have other buyers in their circle of influence that needs the same thing I sell or provide. Relationships rule. In that mind’s eye is the idea that the best relationships, maybe already have a supplier. The best relationships maybe already have a sales professional that they have some loyalty with. I remember one of the first persons that I went after, she said, “I really appreciate what you’ve done, but I’m not likely to move my business to you right now. I’ve been doing business with this company for seven years.” What I said to her, is I said, “I really, really appreciate your loyalty, I hope someday maybe I can earn that loyalty. If you’re okay with this, I’d like to just keep myself in a position by staying in touch with you. That if anything ever changes with that supplier, you would think of me. Would that be okay?”

She said, “You would do that?” I said, “Sure. The only thing that matters is I help you win. If it ultimately means you’re going to bring me business, then great. If not, I believe in adding value.” She said, ” Great.” 18 months later, after giving her about 70 different ideas on how to run her business better, that provider screwed up. She calls me and she says, ” Effective today, you’re my supplier.” I went on to do $110 million in volume with this person in the next three years. I have a client right now in Australia, that I have known for 31 years. I have earned $32 million dollars from this client.

I every single year contact this person, every single year we do an agreement together every single year, I send him a video message on his birthday, every single year. I have one client in Australia that has provided those income streams because I am fiercely loyal. I have 4922 birthdays right now that I do videos for every day. Sometimes three videos, sometimes no videos, sometimes 12 videos, and I video message all of my key influencers, my CEOs and clients that have influence. I do it because I believe that if you’re not in touch, you’re out of touch and you can’t have those relationships. Some markets are different, some products are unique and different.

Here’s what I have found, the more important and the more expensive the service and the product, the more important relationships are. Transactions are one-off deals, relationships are repeat, repeat referral, referral, and you need less of them, Fred, because they’re much more productive. That’s the philosophy on it.  I think everybody would probably agree with this, it takes more to keep the client than it does to get the client. We usually give it our all to get them and then we start taking them for granted. That’s why with some of these guys, like the guy in Australia, I have an annual business review with this guy, and he runs a company that does $40 billion a year in sales. Why would I not meet with him once a year and figure out what we’re going to do over the next one to two years together?

Fred Diamond: We talked about the 20th anniversary of the book, High Trust Selling. Also you’re excited about the 30th anniversary of Sales Mastery. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that the Sales Mastery event? Then we’ll get your final action step.

Todd Duncan: I made a decision in 1992 that I wanted to help sales professionals achieve mastery. Mastery is a great word it says among many things, to have a distinct competitive advantage, to be lifted and elevated in society in terms of skill and knowledge. It also takes people from a level of incompetence and lack of confidence to competence and confidence. Competence and confidence, yield consistency. Consistency is necessary for compounding.

We invented this event in 1992. I had 300 salespeople attend, we’ve now had over 130,000 salespeople attend. If we take their customer base, it’s impacted about 40 million customers. This is the 30th year and we’re taking it right back to the hotel in Palm Desert, The Marriott Desert Springs Resort that we did this thing in in 1992.

A couple 1000 People are going to come and hang out for three days and learn the various different skills from a marketing standpoint, social standpoint, even an innovation standpoint, technology standpoint on how to sell well. Really, really get confident, particularly in the times we’re in right now. One thing I thought about telling you at the very front end of our time, but appropriately so it ends up being maybe one of the things I’ll say at the end. That is, my pastor, when I was a kid always said, “Tough times never last, tough people do.”

This market we’re in, the economy we’re in, the society that we’re in, it’s going to require some grit. It’s going to require some mental toughness, it’s going to require mindset. I love that you talked about mindset. The mindset I have is that, tough times, lean out the bad competitors, tough times, make people that don’t know how to survive and thrive go away.

Tough times are a chance for you to shine. Tough times are a chance for you to come up with new and unique solutions. When I started selling, we were in a national recession and I wore a green button on my jacket that said, “Rumor has it we’re in a recession, I’m not participating.” What it said to every buyer I called on is, “You can choose to be negative right now, or you can choose to be positive. I’m going to choose positivity, you want to come along for the ride?”

Let’s be positive right now because everybody else is negative. If we’re positive, we’re going to win. That mindset is huge, it’s attitude. This is going to pass. Whatever we’re going through is going to pass and it always has, and it always will. The key is be prepared for when the market changes.

Fred Diamond: Once again, we talk today with Todd Duncan. Congratulations.

Todd Duncan: Thank you.

Fred Diamond: We talked about the book many times, we talked about your Mastery event. You’re going to have a couple 1000 People in the Desert, good for you and congratulations again, on all the people that you’ve influenced over the years, the sales professionals, we share that mission in helping salespeople take their careers to the next level. The mission of The Institute for Excellence in Sales, it helps sales leaders attract, retain, motivate and elevate top tier talent. Todd, you’ve given us so many great ideas, so many things to think about.

You’ve written over 17 books, we focused on one, but good for you. Give us a final action step. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas, give us something specific people should do right now, after listening to the podcast, to take their sales career to the next level.

Todd Duncan: I’ll default back to what we talked about. But I’ll say it in a unique a different way. The one thing I would leave people with is, turn down the promotion, turn up the emotion. At some level, every product and service that is represented by your audience Fred, has a chance for a deeper emotional connection with a client.

What ends up happening is there’s so much promotion, there’s so much auto marketing, there’s so much stuff we send out that just ends up being noise. I’ve always been about more from less, how do you get more out of less people? How do you get more out of less activities? How do you get more out of a conversation?

I can tell you right now with absolute certainty that when people connect, they convert. I would tell everybody that, ask different questions. Connect to the heart before you even try to sell to the head. If you connect to the heart, the head will follow, you’re going to win and your clients are going to win.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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