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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 July 3, 2020. It featured business innovative genius Alan Gregerman,]
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EPISODE 262: Business Innovation Guru Alan Gregerman Says Having Goats on Your Zoom Calls Can Lead to a Sales Boost and Here’s Why
ALAN’S TIP TO SALES LEADERS: “Sales people need to make time for curiosity. We can’t just assume that we’re going to go about doing the normal stuff we do and brilliance is going to happen. Make time and even if that means you just start right now with an hour a day or an hour a week and that’s all you can handle, make some time. Even during COVID you can get out, explore a little bit even if it’s just in a park and as places start opening up. Wander around looking for some interesting ideas of businesses that are getting back and doing business and how those ideas could help you and your organization.
The other is I’d like you to get together with your colleagues every week and pose a question that’s a curious question that will spark your thinking and as a group, start to brainstorm questions like, “What do our customers really care about right now?” or, “‘What if we could create the perfect new product or solution, what would be different?” or, “How could we do a better job of using technology?” or, “What would our amazing no-touch customer service look like?” or, “How do we make our customers smarter than they ever imagined possible?” Think about questions like that as a way to regularly spark your team curiosity.”
Fred Diamond: Alan Gregerman, you are the guy, you are the main man who’s going to give people a boost, you’re going to get their creativity going, you are an innovative expert. Alan Gregerman, how are you?
Alan Gregerman: Great, Fred, thanks for inviting me, delighted to be here. I am here live and just like the virus, I’m kind of invisible but I look forward to engaging with everybody, sharing some ideas, getting some feedback from folks. Certainly I’d like to invite everybody who’s on the webcast to connect with me at some point if there are some things they’d like to talk about a bit further or they’d like to get into more depth about some of the challenges they’re facing and how the things we’re going to talk about could be useful to them. In the time we have together I’d like to help people think about things that are really passions for me and that is how do you maintain your curiosity and brilliance in these challenging times when most of us are spending most of our time and most of our business lives living and working virtually?
A few years ago I had the privilege of doing an in-person IES session and the session was called Innovation: Your Secret Weapon to Achieving Greater Sales Success. What I’d like people to think about as we start today is that fundamentally is still an idea that’s really important to me in terms of putting this presentation together. That is the idea that the folks who really win in business and win particularly now even though the rules of the game have changed a little bit are the folks who are consistently thinking in new ways and bringing new ideas and possibilities to their customers and prospects. I want people to think about that understanding deeply what matters to your customers, what are their needs and objectives and how you can be bringing them questions, possibilities, ideas, spark their thinking, help them to stretch in terms of how they achieve what matters most to them with you as a partner in making that happen. Many of the folks who are on this webinar are probably experiencing a little bit of COVID-19 fatigue, it seemed to us we were going to start to go out, maybe we’re not going to go out as much as we had thought we were going to. Still, we’re not able to have the direct connections we’d like to have with customers, prospects, partners, connections who could help us in building our business.
I’d like you to think we still can accomplish a lot, we still can be creative we still can be curious and there may even be a few little ways in which there actually are some advantages to being stuck and I’ll try and go over those as well. Let’s talk about how we keep our mojo and keep our energy going into the holiday weekend and how we can put ourselves in the best and most creative position to succeed. Let me start by enhancing the words of Thomas Edison, a great inventor who said, “Everything comes to him or her” – Edison meant to say, “Or her” as well – “who hustle while they wait.” Only today our hustling is primarily virtual but that doesn’t mean we can’t be awesome. In fact, we can’t be regularly hustling and getting ourselves out there into the world of people and ideas and possibilities. The best salespeople ask the best questions, the best salespeople find the best answers, the best salespeople are regularly the ones who are doing their homework to try and meet the needs of the customers they serve which suggests that our real starting point whether we’re confined or not is the simple notion that the more deeply we understand those we’re trying to serve, the more likely we are to meet their needs.
This is really our target for curiosity and brilliance so this is what we want to be focused on and we need to know this, so I want all of you to think about really what you know about your customers and really, what would be the most remarkable success for your customers. Then use that as we start talking about some tools and techniques for how to unlock your genius and be creative. If you attended the session I did a few years ago or have read my book, The Necessity of Strangers, then you know that I passionately believe that 99% of all new ideas are based on other people’s thinking or the genius of something found in nature.
First, just in case you’re wondering what I look like there’s a cheerful picture of me. So, 99% of all new ideas are based somebody else’s thinking or the ideas that somebody finds in nature, what do I mean by this? Chinese top, 2,000 year old idea, sparked the invention of the helicopter. Birds, something we commonly encounter when we take a hike in the woods were the prime instigator of one of the most popular and useful products known on the planet, Velcro. The Sony Walkman, an incredible creation in 1979 and actually something based on the transistor radio was essential to the creation of the first and every generation of the iPod and now, in fact, the iPhone. A feast for a king in medieval times was part of the spark for you being able to go to Chipotle and get your salad bowl, and so on.
Let me pause for a second and see if anybody has a question about the simple notion that I want you to think about, the idea that 99% of new ideas are based on somebody else’s thinking. I want you to think about this simply because it liberates all of us whether we think we’re particularly creative or not to understand that the world is still with ideas that we can use and combine with what we know best to unlock our genius and deliver value to our customers. Let me pause for a second and see if that resonates with folks and folks see the value of doing that.
Fred Diamond: I’d like to ask all the people watching today’s webcast as well, what’s a way that you’ve been creative? Alan, there’s three big words that we’ve heard over the last three months when all salespeople shifted to working from home. The first word is mindset and again, today’s the Optimal Sales Mindset webcast, you need to have the best mindset. The second word is courage, you need to really be courageous today, you need to bring ideas, you need to be calling your customer and asking them how they’re doing. Related to that is empathy, empathetic conversations and the third word has been creative. Everybody was having their sales processes along the way and then of course everybody had to rethink how they went about this. For all the people watching on today’s webcast, give us an idea via the question panel, submit a way that you’ve been creative over the last three months, something different that you’ve had to do to remain valid as an optimal sales professional.
Alan, people are beginning to send in some ideas. Sue from New York – thank you, Sue – said, “Obviously the use of video.” That’s been interesting, many people hadn’t used things like Zoom or GoToWebinar or GoToMeeting but everybody now is at some level an expert at what we like to say, “Looking at the dot” as they’re doing their presentations. That’s one idea, thank you, Sue. Another idea here from Vincent – Vincent’s from Belgium, Vincent, thank you so much for being on our webcast today – Vincent says, “I’ve been more creative in being empathetic.” Empathy comes up a lot, Alan, throughout the Sales Game Changers webcasts that we’ve been doing. In the beginning it was very easy to just be empathetic asking people how you’re doing, now people have had to be even more creative because you’ve asked your customers so many times, “How are you?” What are some of your thoughts on ways to be even more creative in your communications to your customers?
Alan Gregerman: Those are great questions. Certainly in terms of creative I like the idea that one of the folks, I think Sue mentioned the idea of using video, I think that’s an awesome idea. Not just using the tools we have but actually creating videos that we can send to folks, videos that help them to look at the challenges they face, videos that help them to understand where we might fit in in solving those challenges, I think those are fantastic ideas. Creativity in terms of the information we send – and this gets tied to empathy. When I think about empathy, I think about the notion that as we should always do, we ought to be thinking about our customers and prospects first as people and then second as people, organizations or representatives that we might do business with.
When I think about empathy I think about, “How can I help them in the same situation they’re in that I’m in to manage the world and try and strike some balance in an odd world?” I certainly want to be empathetic about the business situation they want to be in but I also wouldn’t mind being empathetic about the human situation that they’re in. Then I know them well, I might send them a recipe, I might send them an idea of some music to listen to. One of the things I might mention in a little while is the idea, I do a lot of virtual coffees with folks and then I send people some of my favorite coffee, I send them a bag of coffee and I send them a little note that just says, “I hope you enjoy this and you can enjoy it in a little bit of your down time. Here’s what I like about this coffee and being confined has given me plenty of time to learn and study, get a little bit smarter about coffee.” Trying to get them to feel that I think about them as a human trying to balance their life and I think about them as well as somebody that I certainly have and would love to continue to partner with.
Fred Diamond: There’s a couple others here, Alan, I want to share before we move onto your next set of slides. This comes from Ellen Meinhart with the VEDP, thanks, Ellen. Ellen says, “Virtual meetings actually save my clients time and money.” A lot of times we think about how we’re doing things from our perspective but the virtual meetings have actually saved her clients time and money, it’s great for her to be able to call people and, “Convince them to move forward with international sales by using our international contractors to confirm.” That’s an interesting way to think about it, how a lot of the creative ways we’ve been are actually not just helpful for us and being sales professionals but they’re valuable for your customers as well, from the customer angle.
Alan Gregerman: I think that’s great. Let’s face it, everybody has way shorter commutes except for those of us who work from home so we have a bit more time and our ability to be efficient and save people time and still provide value to them I think is an awesome thing. One of the things I’m going to suggest towards the end of the session is the idea that given that we’ve saved ourselves time, I’d like it to be a good idea that you spend a certain amount of that extra time being curious. I’ll share with you how you can do that and it might even be tied to creativity and empathy and getting your customer to feel good and be on the same page, valuable to help them think about how they can spend some of their extra time being a bit more curious. Curious about the challenges they face, curious about the types of solutions available, curious about new knowledge that might help them and their organization be more successful. Even things that we might not be working with them on.
Fred Diamond: We’ve got one more before you move on. Alan here – Alan, thank you so much – talks about the whole concept of doing more research. Alan, one of the key themes that we’ve heard over all of the IES and Sales Game Changers webcasts that we’ve done is how do you be a sales professional during this time? You are a sales professional, how do you be even more of a sales professional right now? You may not be transacting business per se but you’re still a professional so what do you do? The concept of understanding your customer’s challenges and opportunities is something that we’re encouraging salespeople to spend more time on and obviously one of the ways that you do it is by spending time researching the opportunities and challenges that your customers move forward with. One thing that we’ve been suggesting is instead of calling them and saying, “What are the challenges that you’re dealing with?” take the initiative, do the research ahead of time and understand where they’re probably coming from and where they’re probably going to go, and how you can provide value. Thank you, Alan, for that point as well. Alan Gregerman, back to you.
Alan Gregerman: These are great questions, I wish we had more time. Probably most of the people on the call are eager to get on with it and start into the holiday weekend but they’re awesome questions. In an ideal world before the pandemic I would regularly take teams of people, teams of sales marketing people wandering around cities looking for ideas from some awesome world-class companies as well as taking them to museums and thriving neighborhoods and trending new restaurants and world-class performances simply to stretch people’s ideas about what it means to be awesome or remarkable and where brilliant ideas come from. As a way to spark a wider net of ideas and possibilities, I want to challenge you to think we can do almost the exact same thing not as easily as we’d like to and not as fun as we’d like to by actually being out there with our backpacks on wandering through cities but we still can do it.
We just need to have – getting back to the idea of mindset – this curious explorer’s mindset. Tied to what matters to your customers, I want you regularly to be thinking about a bunch of things related to how you meet your customer’s needs. I want you to regularly think about how can you and your company be more remarkable, I want you to think about how you can be more inspiring, how can you be more useful, more helpful? How can you be faster, how can you make it easier to do business? How can you be more compelling, how can you be more engaging so they actually want to spend more time hanging out with you? How can the stuff you do be more sustainable, how can you be more seamless? How can you help your customers to be healthier or happier? How can you offer things that are less expensive? How can you be more impactful? Whatever matters to your customer, it gives you the challenge to ask some questions and then head out in the virtual world looking for folks who have insights to share about how to make those things happen.
Now, in addition to all these companies that I love to think about – companies like Apple, Tesla and Lush Cosmetics, REI which I adore, IKEA which I used to hate but now I’ve grown to love and a whole host of other companies that can provide great insights for us – there are also a bunch of companies and organizations that as I do my online exploring I’ve discovered, that are showing us some ideas that are particularly tied to the world of COVID and to how in a virtual world we can continue to provide value to our customers. Let me give you a few ideas because I’d like to challenge you to think about exploring these types of places and then thinking about what their insight means for you.
The first I’d like to share is a company that’s simply called frame and the company called frame is a British fitness company, it’s a company that decided when suddenly people couldn’t come to their health clubs that they would build community while people were away. They’d create a fitness club and they’d allow you to stay engaged with the folks you normally worked out and exercised with, they’d make sure they regularly gave you the right programs and routines so you could stay on your fitness path and they decided that they would commit to regularly giving you moral support and guidance through texts and emails that would help you stay on top of your game. I’d like you to think about the idea of something as simple as that and I’d like you to think about the notion of how your company could create some type of cloud or membership, you don’t have to charge anything for it, that helps your customers stay engaged, make real progress and even have a cohort, potentially, of other customers. That’s one.
I’ve one a lot of work in the past with Kaiser Permanente and as most of you know because you’ve had your annual physicals rescheduled to be telemedicine appointments, telemedicine with Kaiser and other companies is not only something we’re going to be doing now but something that’s going to become a bigger part of our lives in the future. It gets to the notion of how we use iPads, technology and what type of interactions could actually even be better served by using these as a way to deliver the right kind of quality and consistency and make sure our customers are okay, routine check-ins, whatever the case is. Again, I want you to think about the routine parts of your business and how the routine parts of your business and your customer support can be done in a way that’s engaging, helpful and reassuring. You might even buy doctor’s smocks for everybody and put a sign that says, “Doctor of customer care.” Something so when they see you, they see the value of doing that. That’s a simple idea, the notion of staying engaged and remaining helpful.
A few days after we all started to go home, one of my favorite local breweries, Denizens Beer in Silver Spring decided quickly to offer no-touch via delivery to our homes. It seemed like a simple and logical idea but they were the first I saw do it and it seemed bold enough to me and certainly a logical thing to do. If you’ve seen any statistics, you know that beer consumption is way up since the pandemic but it also suggests an idea for all of us. That idea is the simple notion that maybe there are some things we can continue depending on our business to deliver in a touchless way that bring joy and surprise to our customers. Delivery both figuratively and literally, I’d love you to think about the simple notion of that. I’d also love for you to think about the simple idea of making customers smarter. Today you may have – and I hope not, for those of you who are on this webinar – started to have webinar fatigue because there seems like there’s no limit to the amount of information we can get online, the number of webinars we can attend. I don’t want you to get fatigued, I want you to think about both the value of you sitting in and learning on webinars but also the value of you putting information out there and consistently even when they’re not buying more stuff, making your customers smarter.
I know it’s a theme that’s been regularly talked about by some wonderful speakers as part of this series, but the idea of doing that. Leading organizations like the Wharton School of Business have committed especially during the pandemic to putting some of their content and lectures up for free with the idea of building their brand and simply making folks smarter. Think about the different things in addition to building your brand by making folks smarter that you might also do to help to get people to see the empathetic side, the value side of what you do. One quick thing I’ll refer you to and I would love it if you had any suggestions for me, is we as a company offer 20% of our time for free to small nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of at-risk folks and people in our communities in need. You can simply go on our website which is www.venture-works.com, go to this page, scroll down to learn more. If you know a small nonprofit that could benefit from guidance and strategy innovation, creating more compelling customer experiences, please feel free to connect them and send them our way. We’ve been doing this long before the pandemic but the idea for us is the notion that this is a time when all of us should take the skills that we have and make them available certainly to our customers but to folks who could benefit who might not have the resources to get the help they need.
In addition, think about organizations like the Kennedy Center and lots of other cultural institutions which aren’t able to perform but are figuring out ways to get the magic of performance in the hands of all of their customers. The Kennedy Center has put up a robust amount of its past performances including all of the former Millennium Stage performances that you can watch at you leisure at home to feel that you’re engaged in entertainment. Other theater companies are either putting up parts of other performances or having actors from their living rooms or their basements or their attics do readings or performances, comedy clubs are doing the same thing. Think about your ability to perform and entertain and if there’s a possibility to offer some value in terms of inspiring and entertaining your customers.
Then I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer this because this is my favorite one that I’ve discovered during the pandemic. A lot of you are on Zoom calls and you see all of your wonderful colleagues or you see customers or association members that you’re part of on those Zoom calls smiling, looking engaged, looking at your picture, trying to stay focused. A farm in California called Sweet Farm thought they could make a little bit of extra money by leveraging some of their personalities, I know we’re on a call session called GoToMeeting and they’ve created a program called GoatToMeeting in which for $100 dollars you can actually get them to incorporate a goat cam or a sheep cam or a llama cam into your Zoom call. Instead of just watching your friends you could watch and see how a goat behaves listening to the stuff that you guys are working on. It’s all about having fun so think about the ways as well that you can learn from others and have fun engaging with the folks you have the privilege to serve.
Let me pause for a second and see what thoughts people have about ideas that you’ve come up with as you looked around, companies or organizations that you respect and like and think are being creative, or maybe some ideas they have that we can share with folks about how to unlock creativity during these interesting times.
Fred Diamond: Alan, people are home, in some places people are telling their people to stay away from people, Virginia just went to phase three, where we’re basing today’s webcast. I know you’re in Maryland, we’re in Virginia, we just moved to phase three but the governor said it’s safer at home. So, what are some things people can be doing from home to increase their creativity? You said you bring people in walking tours through cities, most people are not going places even still today, a bunch of states just told people to stay away from beaches, they’re closing beaches in various places. What are two or three things that people who aren’t really socializing with a lot of people can do to boost their creativity to improve as sales professionals?
Alan Gregerman: There are so many things you could do but let’s just stick for a moment with the idea that I planted that in better times we’d be out exploring. We can still explore cities, we can do virtual explorations and one fun thing – because I love to travel – that I’m doing right now is I’m identifying places that I hope Americans will someday be able to go back to. I’m starting to plan what’s the ideal three day visit there, for some places even longer. I’m starting to think about what are the things that are remarkable there. I’m googling and searching online remarkable things, I’m going back to travel videos I adore by things like Parts Unknown by the late Anthony Bourdain, by the series that’s on Netflix now, Somebody Feed Phil. I’m actually going to these places through these films as well as going online, pulling up videos about places and looking at the things that are remarkable there, seeing if any of those remarkable things spark any ideas for me about things that I can do or suggest or write about to our customers. I’m attending some webinars for sure, I’m reading some books including books I might not have read before that end up sparking my thinking.
Certainly I’d love all of you to read The Necessity of Strangers but I’d love you to read a book out there called Range which is about the power of being a generalist, it’s a wonderful book out there. I’m reading a fascinating new book by a woman named Lori Gottlieb who’s a psychoanalyst who’s written a book called Maybe You Should Talk to Someone which is about the whole value of psychoanalysis. The reality is often if we’re really good salespeople somebody is going to say to us, “Are you a psychologist?” There are some wonderful insights here about understanding and reading people and how to connect and engage with people. I’m doing all those things, I’m taking some online classes, I’m listening to way more podcasts, I love the Freakonomics radio podcast. I like this podcast Business Model Sandbox which talks about different business models in industries which might help the people on the call think about their basic business models and organizations and how they might tweak it. I read a lot of science magazines, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, I love this magazine AFAR which sparks my thinking about awesome places to travel, it’s a hip, trendy, millennial travel magazine. Those are things that absolutely I’d love people to do. Then I really want people to connect with more people now.
When I mentioned at the outset that I think this is a time when there are a few advantages, one that I found – and I’d be curious about what the other folks on the call think – that’s absolutely true is I think it’s way easier to connect with some remarkable and impressive people right now because everybody is shut. I find when I read about somebody who’s written something interesting or I discover a company that’s done something interesting, I do a bit more homework, then I send a really nice email to the person involved and I say, “Your work is inspiring me.” Then I give them a couple reasons why it’s inspired me and I say, “I’d love to connect.” I’m finding about two thirds of people that I send those notes to, even the heads of large companies or well-known professionals in other fields respond and say, “Sure, let’s set up a coffee, let’s set up a Zoom call.” I think we can absolutely do that, that’s something to do.
Fred Diamond: Alan, someone asked a question here. You’re absolutely right, people are more approachable now because most people are still working from their homes and they probably will be working from their homes at least for the foreseeable future, definitely through the summer. I’ve also taken the opportunity to reach out to some amazing authors that have written some of the best books of all time to invite them to the podcast. Do you think it’s going to continue once we go back at some level to the office and things continue to move back to “normal”? If not or if so, how do we maintain this opportunity to build relationships?
Alan Gregerman: I think it’s going to remain in some significant way. I think one of the things that can in an odd way benefit from the situation we’re in today is people having a greater appreciation for whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, the desire to stay connected to people, the desire to have conversations, the desire to engage people, to learn about people both in terms of them as people and them as business people and professionals. I think people are going to want that and I have a feeling even when things open up most people aren’t going to the office every day, I think more people are going to spend part of the time in the office when they need to and more time in their remote location. They’ve gotten it all organized, they’ve gotten comfortable, they don’t enjoy the commute, they found the things they can do well and the things that are challenges to do in a remote location and I think they’re more open to balancing that as opposed to going into the office 40 hours a week.
Fred Diamond: Alan, we have time for a couple more questions here and by the way, Ellen recommends a book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing my Edge and Found Self-Help that Actually Worked. Alan, we’re coming down to the end here. Before I ask you for your final action step that we can take here we do have a couple other quick questions, maybe you can take these relatively quickly. One of the questions here is, “How do I encourage my boss to allow us to be more creative?” That’s an interesting question, thank you so much and that’s from Martin. Thank you, Martin. We get this a couple of times, we have a great speaker who comes on our webcast who gives a couple of great ideas about certain things that could be implemented as part of the process but they’re nervous about going up to their boss and communicating them. What might be some of your suggestions for some of the sales professionals we have watching today’s show to communicate some of these ideas up? You’ve probably experienced some resistance in your career, I’m just curious on some of your thoughts on that.
Alan Gregerman: It’s not possible in the time we have left to transform the corporate cultures of a lot of organizations but I go back to one of the things that we talked about a little while ago and that was the idea that we have plenty of time to get smart about ideas before we bring them to customers or get smart about the needs of customers. I believe we have time now to take an idea and make a commitment to it. Do some homework, do some wrestling with that idea, talk to some folks we know who are out there in the marketplace who are customers, bounce that idea off of them. Then once we’ve got some feedback that, “This is an idea that could have traction if I do it the right way”, then I think I take that idea to my boss. I say, “I’ve invested some time, this isn’t some random idea that I just came up with in the shower, this is an idea I’ve invested in some time, I’ve done some analysis, I’ve done some thinking, I’ve socialized it with a bunch of folks. I’d love the chance to just pilot this idea with a few customers because I think we’re going to get a great result from that.” That’s something I would do.
Fred Diamond: Alan, we’ve got time for about one or two more thoughts from you and we definitely want to get your final thought on what people can be doing today to put some of this into action today on July 2nd, 2020.
Alan Gregerman: If I were to say one thing I’d say what we all need to do – getting back to the idea of mindset – is we need to make time for curiosity. We can’t just assume that we’re going to go about doing the normal stuff we do and brilliance is going to happen and it’s going to push the other stuff aside. I’d like you all to make some time and even if that means you just start right now with an hour a day or an hour a week and that’s all you can handle, make some time. You have the ability to get out, get out, explore a little bit even if it’s just in a park and as places start opening up, wander around looking for some interesting ideas of businesses that are getting back and doing business and how those ideas could help you and your organization. The other is I’d like you to get together with your colleagues or team members every week or every other week in those calls, pose a question that’s a curious question. Pose a question that will spark your thinking and as a group, start to brainstorm questions like, “What do our customers really care about right now?” or, “‘What if we could create the perfect new product or solution, what would be different?” or, “How could we do a better job of using technology?” or, “What would our amazing no-touch customer service look like?” or, “How do we make our customers smarter than they ever imagined possible?” Think about questions like that as a way to regularly spark your team curiosity. Those would be some basic things that I’d think about as stuff I do. Take the weekend off, celebrate and then get back to it.
Fred Diamond: ABC, Always Be Curious.
Alan Gregerman: Exactly. I have another slide but the story is a bit long so I have to save that for a time when I get everybody in person because I love the story but I can’t do it really short.
Fred Diamond: Alan Gregerman, thank you so much, you were a very popular speaker at the IES, we look forward to getting you back on the live stage. Alan, thank you so much. For all the people who’ve been watching today, especially Ralph from Antarctica, thank you so much. Ralph, you’re awesome, Alan, all you people are awesome as well. Have a great weekend, happy July 4th, we’ll see you all next Wednesday on the Sales Game Changers Live. Thank you, Alan.
Alan Gregerman: Thanks, take care.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo