EPISODE 260: The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson, Outlines the Nine Optimal Sales Mindset Steps for Reopening

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the OPTIMAL SALES MINDSET Webinar hosted by Fred Diamond, Host of the Sales Game Changers Podcast, on June 25, 2020. It featured the Small Biz Lady Melinda Emerson,]

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EPISODE 260: The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson, Outlines the Nine Optimal Sales Mindset Steps for Reopening

MELINDA’S TIP TO SALES LEADERS: “Focus on what you can control and right now there’s not a lot people can control except for their attitude. You can control your response to your customer. So whether or not your customer had budget last week and all of a sudden their budget got snatched back, you can’t control that. Be pleasant to deal – make sure that they can hear the smile on the other end of the phone or they can actually see your smile and face on the Zoom call. It’s important that you embrace as opposed to react.”

Fred Diamond: Melinda Emerson, it’s so great to have you here on the Optimal Sales Mindset, when I reached out to a lot of the great speakers that we know looking for some great speakers, your name came up from the great Barb Weaver and some other people as well. You’re known as the Small Biz Lady, SBL, [laughs] you’re also living in my home town of Philadelphia and we’ve gotten a lot of excitement from people who want to hear from you and they want to talk to you a little bit via the webcast. Melinda, great to see you, I’ve been wanting to have you on our show and on the IES stage for a long time and we’re thrilled to have you here today. I’m excited to hear about what you’re going to be talking about.

Melinda Emerson: The great thing about COVID-19 is suddenly everybody’s schedule is available, right? [Laughs] I’m glad that we were able to work this out so I could be here with you today, Fred. It’s really interesting, in the COVID-19 era, dare I say the post-COVID-19 era some places around the country are finally opening up at least a little bit this coming weekend. I think it’s interesting because the nature of business has changed, the people are spending a lot of time online, everybody’s streaming everything, everyone’s spending a lot more time on social media and those are very interesting sales channels that we can all look at in terms of where and how we engage our customers.

Selling has changed a little, I think we do have to get more in the service mode of sales as opposed to just, “I have this great solution, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” I think we really have to look at where people are at because in some cases our customers are worried about their job, our customers are worried about is their company the next company that’s going to go bankrupt? There’s a lot of stuff going on out here in corporate America not just obviously in the small business world which is where I reign supreme. I think small businesses are getting crushed right now and unfortunately I do believe we’re going to lose about 50% of them, frankly, before this thing is over. I think the unemployment numbers are really high and I don’t think they’re going to go lower, I think they’re going to go higher so I think there’s a lot of stuff going on.

Unfortunately now that people are working from home or working differently, people have laid off parts of their staff, they’re starting to realize maybe they don’t need them to come back, they’re now lean and mean and can still operate. There’s a lot of different things going on inside all of our customers that we have to be cognoscente as salespeople, as people calling on these guys. It’s a really interesting paradigm right now.

Fred Diamond: We’ve been doing webcasts for the last three months on a daily basis with the exception of Monday and I agree with you, which is why we’re doing a mindset webcast every week. The IES prior to the pandemic would do 50 to 70 live events per year, we did our mindset one in October. For four hours on a Friday morning in October we would focus on mindset and it comes up, of course, throughout. Now we’ve actually devoted a slot every week just for talking about mindset for a couple reasons. One is things are changing, it used to be a daily basis and now it’s kind of on a weekly basis, today it’s June 25th, I was just watching the news before I came onto today’s webcast and there’s been spikes in 27 states. You’re absolutely right where you said as it relates to sales, we were talking about this episode in preparation and we were talking about some ways that people need to grow their mindset but we also acknowledge that these aren’t normal times. We’re going to talk about some things that sales professionals should be doing and thinking about today in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of a huge economic challenge where salespeople, if you’re thinking about closing a lot of business right now, it’s going to be tough especially as your customer shuts down and your customer’s customer’s customer shuts down. But, there are things you can be doing to be a sales professional and you have 9 things lined up for us that we’re going to talk about that are right on track, we’re going to make them pertinent to today as people act today but also as they start moving back out. They’re really going to take their game to the next level.

Melinda Emerson: Alright, let’s jump in, let’s get to it. We’re going to talk about what we call the 9 steps of optimal sales mindset for reopening because if everything was normal, we know what normal sales mindset is but now it’s a little bit different. I think the first thing we’ve got to think about is there are some things that separate great salespeople from average salespeople and their #1 thing is the mindset but it’s also their motivated to sell and they fundamentally identify with the product or service they’re selling and really their company sales process which is really important. When I think about this, the first thing I think about is understanding the why story, not your customer’s why story but your why story and that really goes back. In these COVID-19 times many businesses have had to realign their unique value proposition, how can you figure out how to add value, even more value right now without adding cost? That is realigning your unique value proposition and when I say understanding your why story, I’m saying if your unique value proposition has been tweaked, making sure that you really understand and align with it and have the ability to convey it in a way that is going to get a customer to say, “I need that.” That is what I mean by why story. What do you think, Fred?

Fred Diamond: That’s absolutely true. We talk about the why a lot prior to the pandemic but more from the perspective of understanding, like you said, your customer’s why. We were having a conversation today with one of the members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales and we were talking about how conversations have changed over the last three months. In the beginning it was a lot of empathetic conversations where it’s just about empathy but now we’re seeing a lot of the conversations shift to not, “What are your challenges, what are you going through?” but, “What are you hoping to achieve post-COVID?” We’re talking about reopening today. What are you hoping to achieve, what’s your company hoping to achieve? Because everyone’s had to pivot at some level, even the companies that we know that are doing really well. Understanding what they’re trying to achieve, where they’re trying to take their company is something that salespeople need to be so conscious of right now so that they can go back and give them some value. “This is where you’re trying to get through the end of 2020, let me as a great sales professional think it through and come back to you with some ideas.”

Melinda Emerson: I also think, too, as salespeople we have to be realistic that what people paid for a thing three months ago they’re probably not willing to pay the same amount now. We have to realign that with how we’re packaging, bundling offers and things like that as well because things have changed and everything’s on sale in America right now. You’ve got to make sure that what you’re offering is aligning with that as well. The second thing, I still think no matter what, the world is still waiting on a better mousetrap so there’s no such thing as, “There’s no customers” or, “If I don’t get this sale it’s going to be the end of the world.” There’s always another customer and even in this post-COVID-19 time we have to reject the scarcity mindset, we can’t get all into this trap of, “The country is in a recession, unemployment is high, nobody is going to buy from me” or, “If I don’t get this sale, my job is going to be ended.”

We can’t give into despair. I think at this point we really need to be thinking there’s going to be some winners coming out of this recession and if you play your cards right, if you do the right things, if you stay in communication with your customer you’re going to win and it’s just that. Right now might be, “I can’t get budget approval right now but I know I need you” so you have to keep in touch, massage the conversation, really understand what your customer’s #1 care abouts are so that you can be in position when the budget opens back up. That’s really what it’s about but you can’t fall into despair and I think when times are tight you start thinking, “Oh, no” and that’s not true because your customer needed you before COVID and your customers need you now. They might not need as much, but they still need you.

Fred Diamond: It goes back to the abundance mindset that most of the top sales professionals have that we’ve interfaced with. There’s so many challenges right now, originally it was just about the pandemic, everybody was having their best year ever only three short months ago, then the pandemic kicks in so then every kid is sent home from school and then your spouse who usually travels is now home. Then there’s shortages, then of course there’s been a lot of social challenges over the last couple weeks that have been eye-opening to a lot of people wanting to have different levels of conversation and understanding what’s going on and how that impacts them in the workforce.

Now we’re in the beginning of summer, are we going to reopen my company again? It’s not just, “How do I get better at sales? I need to be a better prospector or build my referral base.” Now there’s so many things that even the best salespeople in the world are having to deal with. That being said, you can’t find yourself in the space of despair like you just said, the top sales professionals, you may not be getting your number right now. Some of the great sales leaders, we deal with are also reducing compensation, commission plans to be real, a lot of the great companies we’re working with are doing their best not to lay people off, to keep people on board as long as they can. The top people that we’re talking to every week, they’re maintaining an aspirational mindset.

Melinda Emerson: You have to have an aspirational mindset, it doesn’t work if you don’t. If you’re a negative-thinking, “Woe is me” kind of person then sales isn’t even for you. When we have so many elements of change and so many things that we can’t control and your boss is still expecting you to perform, that is pressure. We have to acknowledge that, but even with all of that the world is still waiting on a better mousetrap, people still need you, there are still plenty of customers, everybody is not out of business right now. I think that we have to focus on that and serve the people that we can serve and do a great above and beyond kind of job for them.

I do still think it’s necessary to qualify the customer, I do think that there are maybe even more tire kickers out there right now and people who want services but they’re not willing to disclose their budget. I think we still have to stand firm on who we give our time to because the salespeople, we’re time starved and kind of coin-operated so we want to make sure that if we do take the time to develop a proposal for someone there’s a real opportunity. You’ve got to still ask those key questions, “What is your timeline? What is your budget? How is the decision going to be made?” Those things are still really important because I do think that you can be more collaborative with people, you can certainly have brainstorming sessions with people that aren’t necessarily about asking for the deal but you do still want to qualify whether people are worth your time. If they’re not, shut it down quick and move on but you want to be careful that you don’t turn down somebody that’s going to have a $10 million dollar budget in two months [laughs]. You want to do it as kind a way as possible but you still want to make sure that people that are so-so opportunities aren’t eating up all your time.

Fred Diamond: It goes back to what we were saying before. You may not be closing a lot of business right now because of all the challenges in the world but you still need to improve yourself as a sales professional. Qualification, understanding your market, understanding buyer behavior. Melinda, I want to ask you a question. People are asking us, “What should I work on today? What should I do today?” It’s interesting, one of the companies that’s actually not a member of the Institute told us that they recently did some layoffs and they did some layoffs because some people just weren’t showing up to work, the people were just making sourdough bread all day, I guess, or watching Netflix.

Melinda Emerson: [Laughs]

Fred Diamond: They were tracking calls and they saw that a lot of people in their company just weren’t coming so they laid a bunch of them off. What would be the #1 thing that you would do right now to improve yourself as a sales professional? If you only had one thing to do, what would you suggest that they work on? Qualifying, qualification, prospecting, they’re all skills salespeople need to have.

Melinda Emerson: I think just doing like what we’re doing right now, participating in webinars, listening to podcasts on great sales practices, I think this down time is a great time to sharpen your own knife. One of the things that I’ve actually done for myself in the last two years, I actually just finished my executive MBA at Drexel University and that’s something that I always wanted to do for like 20 years. I finally decided two years ago to do it and finish my degree in the COVID era which was really interesting, I went from an in-person class to an online program. I think that there’s tons of webinars and podcasts, even books, all of us have books sitting in our office that people sent us or that we bought on Amazon and didn’t read yet. Tackle some of that, this is a great time to build your skills and sharpen your own knife for sure.

Fred Diamond: Melinda has given us some great ideas here on how to build that sales mindset as we move closer to reopening and as the world, even with all the challenges, begins to get somewhat more normalized from where it was.

Melinda Emerson: #4 is a tried and true one but I felt like I had to throw it in here, you really do have to focus on helping and not sell. If you’re just about closing the sale everybody can feel that and sense that so you really need to be your most authentic self and put yourself in a mindset of, “I’m helping my customer, my customer is having a problem and my solution is going to help them solve it better/cheaper/faster/smarter.” You have to make sure that your solution falls into one of those and make sure that that’s what your focus is. I think the difference between manipulating someone into a sale and helping someone is simply intent and you want to make sure that your motives are pure and that you really are thinking about helping your customer.

Fred Diamond: Susan chimes in here, “Sales is all about service” and that’s something that we noticed right away. The great sales professionals that we’ve dealt with at the Institute for Excellence in Sales and that we’ve interviewed on the Sales Game Changers podcast have always known that they are of service to their customer. When I ask these sales VP’s I interview on my podcast, “Why have you achieved such great things in sales?” they’ve all said the same thing, “Because I’m of service to my customer.” Right now everybody needs help, everybody’s struggling with something, 82% of the planet was stuck in their homes for the last three months, more people are still staying home.

Then like you said before, especially for small companies that are getting crushed, your customer or your customer’s customer, if you want to be a great sales professional you need to be viewing yourself as being of service and part of it is offering the service. It’s going to your customer with, “I’d like to help you take yourself to the next level, how can I help you?” or, “I was thinking that this may help you.” Being proactive in that servicing as well.

Melinda Emerson: I couldn’t agree with you more, I think it’s important. Just trying to manage that or doing sales calls without a bunch of background noise, just all kinds of stuff people are managing and people are dealing with and I think it’s important to be very empathetic to that.

This one dovetails off of that, you really need to make sure that you keep your client’s best interest at heart and by that is don’t sell them something that they don’t need, be authentic about whether or not you are offering the best solution. If you aren’t, be transparent and even give them a referral to a better service, if you know that your product really isn’t going to solve their problem do not sell it to them. In fact, you have more integrity and build a better relationship pointing them to the solution that really is going to be their best bet and I do this all the time.

Sometimes people come to me and they want coaching, for example to boost their business or they want a marketing solution or a social media strategy and I’m too expensive for them, I have a lower level service provider that I refer people to all the time because I’m expensive [laughs] you want to be honest with people but have an alternative. Obviously as salespeople we want the sale, we want the commission but all money isn’t good money and if you take money from someone and they buy a Cadillac when they really needed a Hyundai, they’re going to resent you for it, you’re not going to get repeat business and in fact, they’re going to go out bad-mouthing you to a bunch of people. You want to make sure that you are selling someone the appropriate solution and that starts with having your client’s best interest at heart.

Fred Diamond: It goes back to the notion that sales success is a journey and there are very few shortcuts.

Melinda Emerson: I can’t emphasize this enough, I think this is really about being honest and being transparent if you’re selling a solution that’s something your client needs five years from now and that’s something they don’t need right now, don’t sell it to them, it’s just not worth it. Anybody will buy something once but the point is repeat business and referral business is how businesses are sustained so that’s where you want to get to, you want to be their best referral.

Fred Diamond: You also made a very good point as well, people are looking for solutions for right now to get through this or to help them get to the next stage as compared to where we want to be in 2021, 2022. There was a meme going around that in 2015 today was not the end of anybody’s 5 year plan so nobody said in 2015, “In the summer of 2020 I want to be in the middle of a pandemic with businesses going out of business and being stuck in my home and having to wear a mask and not being able to go to my office and go see customers and only seeing customers through a dot.” You need to be focused on, “How can I help you now or how can I help you get to your next place, Mr./Mrs. customer, where you want to get to?” You’re talking about next year, 5 years, it’s a total waste of time.

Melinda Emerson: That actually dovetails well into my #6 which is focus on what you can control and right now there’s not a whole lot people can control but their attitude. Your attitude is the #1 thing you can control, your response to things are things that you can control so whether or not your customer had budget last week and all of a sudden their budget got snatched back, you can’t control that. You always have to be pleasant to deal with, I think there’s something to be said for doing good work versus being good to work with and I think this is really where the rubber hits the road for a lot of salespeople. You have to make sure that they can hear the smile on the other end of the phone or they can actually see your smile and face on the Zoom call. It’s important that you embrace as opposed to react and I think that’s what it’s about when you talk about that.

Fred Diamond: Melinda, we have a question here that comes from Mary, Mary wants to know, “How is Melinda keeping herself under control?” Melissa Emerson, you’re the Small Biz Lady, you have a huge following on social media, you’ve created the name for yourself as a Small Biz Lady, SBL. When we posted the show we got response from all over the world, people who follow you, look for advice from you and guidance so give us a little peak underneath the cover here. How are you maintaining control? You also need to sell your services for your public persona.

Melinda Emerson: I’ve got to be honest with you. My entire book of business for March, April, May and June got wiped out in March so all the conferences, the key notes and things I was supposed to do went kaboom. Unfortunate because I have a corporate business as well as a direct to consumer, I sell things to small business owners too so I was fortunate in a couple of ways. #1, because my brand is so big I did have some corporations reach out to me to do very high profile national webinars so that saved me a little bit, but also doubled down on my small business marketing efforts. We developed a brand new e-book called How To Recession Proof Your Small Business, put it out there for free for people, we didn’t sell it, we gave it away because I always have been about ending small business failure, being of service but I also invested in building some new funnels. We’re about to do a big launch, we’re going to give away my first book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months for free, we’re going to do a free plus shipping offer to my small business customers. I’ve also been diversifying and developing new courses and online material, I’ve been using this down time to get in the lab and build some more stuff. When times come through and people are looking for more training material, online coursewares and things like that, I’m going to have two or three brand new courses to launch.

I do also have a 14 year old son, I am a divorced single parent and my mother’s here too so I’ve got two bad coworkers, my mom and my son, who gang up on me [laughs] so that’s been interesting too. Not necessarily home schooling but managing screen time and making sure my son gets all his tutors and all this kind of stuff, no shortage of craziness going on here but just grateful for this time and space, grateful for the time with my family close by. It was terrible to cancel all of our summer vacations but I’m scared to go anywhere frankly till January so I am in my house feeling like I’m under house arrest but I’m making the most of it because I’ve been working from home for 8 years so it’s not a super big deal to work from home, that’s for sure.

Fred Diamond: Melinda, we have a lot of people around the globe watching us today, “Focus on what you can control.” What’s #7?

Melinda Emerson: #7 is actively listen and this is important because in this day in time a lot of people are hurting and their pride might not let them tell you as their salesperson how bad things really are in their business. Some people are willing up to open their whole kimono and tell you but some people aren’t so you really have to listen to what they aren’t saying and just pay attention to what’s going on in their industry, figure out where you can get other information whether it’s a trained association website. Just look at what’s going on, maybe that might be a way for you to offer a solution for them that has nothing to do with what you sell but something that they might need to be aware of.

For me, one of the things that I’ve done is helped a lot of the people in my circle get the PPP loans and the EIDL loans and know how to fill out the paperwork, what information they need to get from their payroll companies so they can apply and things like that. Obviously I don’t give out loans but I’ve been helping people with other things that they need help with and that might be a great way that you can be of service to some of your customers based on where they are and on what they need.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here from Susan, thank you. The question is, “How can I be a better listener?” and that’s an interesting question. That comes up a lot when I talk to the sales leaders that we’ve had on the Sales Game Changers podcast or in the Institute, active listening, “I have two ears and one mouth, use them in that order”, the 66% solution. Give us a technique that you would tell your customers during normal time or today, how can they become a better listener? It’s such a skill that’s so inherent in great sales professionals yet it’s hard because especially when you talk to someone new you want to get all your features and facts out there. I tell people, “If your customer does 90% of the talking then it’s a successful meeting.”

Melinda Emerson: My father was a salesman for 30 years, he sold for Kraft Foods and my father would say that. He used to say, “If your customer does all the talking it was a good meeting” and I think that’s true but I also think if you’re trying to figure out how to be a better listener, start by asking better questions. Ask probing questions that are going to spark a conversation versus a yes/no answer, sort of like dealing with your kids. If you’re trying to get information about how their day was you don’t say, “How was your day?” because you’re going to get, “Good.” You have to ask, “What did you do today? What was the most impactful thing that you learned this week?” There are ways to ask questions in a way that can draw even a shy person out so it really starts with asking better questions, more probing questions.

#8 is build trust because we all know that people do business with people that they like, know and trust so all of that is really important because at the end of the day trust is the main thing you want to build, you want to friend-raise as much as you’re fundraising. When you make a sale you’re fundraising but when you’re building a relationship, that’s what I call friend-raising and I think it’s about listening, it’s about offering solutions that have nothing to do with what you sell and it’s really just about caring about that person. That person is worried about whether or not they’re going to keep their job or whether or not they’re going to be asked to do three times the work and take a 5% pay cut, that’s a real issue for somebody you might be trying to sell to right now but you’ve got to be sensitive to that, helpful around that if you can be.

One of the things that I try to do sometimes when I’m trying to cultivate a new customer is I find a book that might be helpful to them and mail it to them, I just jump on Amazon. I have a couple of books, I’m a bit of a book person and I don’t like electronic books, I like hardcover books that I can flip through and I’ll just mail somebody a book. “I saw this, I thought it might be of interest to you, it might be helpful to you.” Something little to try to build rapport and to just show that I’m interested in helping them be better. I think that’s a great way to build trust.

Fred Diamond: I hate to put you on the spot, I always hate asking this question, this might throw you off but is there a go-to book that you have that’s been very impactful for you? You’ve created such a name for yourself and you’ve risen to the top of being a consultant to companies selling to small business and also helping small businesses achieve themselves. To put you on the spot, do you have a go-to book or one or two that you’d like to recommend for the audience?

Melinda Emerson: To be honest with you, it depends if I’m dealing with a corporate person or if I’m dealing with a small business person. If I’m dealing with a small business person a lot of times I’ll send them my own book or if it’s somebody that I know has my books and materials I might send them The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber or I might send them Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, those are two books that I like to send people. Right now in this time and space I really like an old book that a person that’s a good friend of mine wrote a long time ago, his name is Barry Moltz and Barry wrote this book called Bounce Back in the early 2000s and it was what happened to him after he got kicked out of a business, he pulled in a business partner and that business partner booted him out of his own business and talked about how he completely reinvented himself and his business and the lessons he learned from it. I’ve actually been sending that book to people because right now there’s a whole lot of people in that situation having to reinvent from the ashes kind of thing. Those are three books I send to people.

I’m a huge Jill Konrath fan so I love her SNAP Selling book is a good one. There’s so many good ones I could just keep going, I’m a little bit of a bookworm.

Fred Diamond: Those are great. Jill’s a good friend of the Institute, we’ve had her on the stage and Michael also says here that E-Myth is his favorite business book. We had today Melinda Emerson, she’s the Small Biz Lady, SBL, she’s up in Philly, I’m down here in Virginia. She’s given us 8 of the Optimal Sales Mindset tips you need to be thinking about as we accelerate towards reopening. Melinda, I know that you have one more that you’re going to share with us and then I’m going to put you on the spot again, I’m going to ask you for one advice. I know I asked you about 30 minutes ago but I’m going to ask you for one action item that all of our guests can do today. Melinda, bring us home here with your ninth and final point on maintaining and growing the Optimal Sales Mindset.

Melinda Emerson: You have to realize that failure is part of the process, you just have to eat no’s for breakfast, you have to know that nobody closes 100%, nobody has 100% close ratio. Failure is part of it but it’s also a numbers game, the more proposals you put out there the more you’ll close and it’s really just that simple but hearing a no is okay as long as you find out why. Why did you lose the business, who won it, go check them out, check out their website, check out their social handles. I’ve actually been a fan of asking the customer if you could see the winning proposal, every now and again they’ll give it to you and I think that’s a treasure trove of information just to see how they lay it out, how their numbers are laid out, what they charge for, that’s the best resource you could have is to get the winning proposal. That’s it, that’s where I’m at in terms of failure is part of it but just learn and keep it moving.

Fred Diamond: I know that you’re going to be turning this into a blog post, I believe you have a slide coming up on how people can reach out to you and you’re extremely successful on all of the LinkedIn, all the social media. Where do you suggest people go to check in with you best and where might you be posting this blog on Monday?

Melinda Emerson: My blog is succeedasyourownboss.com but if you want to follow me on social media you can hit me up on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, I am the Small Biz Lady on all of those places but if you’re a good salesperson, I know you, you use LinkedIn and I am Melissa Emerson on LinkedIn. You can certainly connect to me there or hang out on my YouTube channel as well.

Melinda Emerson: I’m a big fan of what I call a storm starter strategy and that is if you’re a B to B salesperson I want you to make a target 65 list, 65 companies you want to work for, 65 contacts you have and over the next week I want you to hit 5 to 7 of them a day and just send them an email, hit them up on LinkedIn, give them a phone call and you will be amazed at how people are going to respond to it. New opportunities are going to come to you, it’s going to start raining money in your sales practice if you do this. If you’ve been stuck but trying to figure out what to do, call those existing contacts because it’s much easier to get love from someone who already loves you, so do that.

Fred Diamond: Melinda, stay safe, hopefully you’ll make it out of your house, at least walk around the block or something. It’s been a pleasure having you, again to all of our guests today, thank you so much for listening to the Optimal Sales Mindset webcast and the Sales Game Changers podcast. Thanks, Melinda.

Melinda Emerson: Thank you for having me.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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