Archive for category Sales

How Well Do Your Customers Really Know You?

Dan - another path

As always, it’s all about the customers and more importantly, it really gets down to what your customers think about you. I want you to really think about this for a minute or two. What do your customers think about your company? What do they think about how you do business? Would they recommend you to someone else who might need your services? After all, a great recommendation from one of your customers is without a doubt the strongest evidence of how and what they think of you.

We all should be focused on what our customers think of us at all times. This is particularly true for those of us selling business-to-business products because most of the time if we are not performing as the customer feels we should be he will simply walk quietly away, not even bothering to let us know why he is unhappy, which is why it is so important that we always have our finger on the proverbial pulse and staying aware of where you stand with that customer.

A few weeks ago I read an excellent book, Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World, by Steve Anderson and Dave Stein. First, let me say this book is a must have must read for anyone in sales and anyone in business, for that matter, as it is filled with page after page of excellent ideas, suggestions and guidelines on how to be a completely customer-focused company.

There was one particular section that really struck me as a great tool for companies who want to make sure they understand where they stand with their customers. In fact, it’s so valuable that I want to include it here for all to see and reflect upon. Here it is:

How would your customer respond to these statements? Would they say “Yes” or “No” to these statements?

This is your customer being asked to agree or disagree with these:

  •  You make it easy for us to do business with you.
  • You resolve our problems and conflicts as they arise.
  • You understand our business and our industry.
  • You listen to our needs before talking about your offerings.
  • You consult with us with an intent to solve our business problems.
  • You dedicate the resources that will enable us to work effectively together.
  • You provide us with preferred pricing and contract terms.
  • You align your team members with ours.
  • You approach our business strategically and not just transactionally when we’re buying.
  • You plan the future together with us even when we are not buying.
  • You develop relationships with our executives and yours.
  • You help us understand the specific value of your offerings.
  • You help us assess your performance with mutually acceptable metrics.
  • You share best practices and industry knowledge that will add value to our business.
  • You provide a single point of contact to us for strategy and decision making.
  • You provide an internal advocate for us that will be focused on our specific needs.

And of course you know me—I can’t help but add a few of my own here:

  1. You are there in times of trouble, making sure that we have the ability to talk, or even vent to someone.
  2. You maintain a certain amount of decorum and respect for all your customers since we never have heard you say anything disrespectful about any of your customers.
  3. You are always striving to make our relationship better.
  4. You are honest with us when it comes to new innovations and technologies that will help our business even if they might not be in your best interest because you have ours at heart.
  5. You give us the feeling that you are always looking out for us.
  6. We consider you our expert when it comes to your products.
  7. We consider you a vital part of our company’s future growth plans.
  8. You have proven yourself to be a valuable partner to our company.
  9. It would be difficult to replace you.

Pretty good lists, right? How would you do? Do you feel that you would get positive answers to all of these statements? Are you doing everything listed here and would your customers would agree?

I hope so. But if not, then it is in your best interest to remedy that and do it right away. I would urge you to keep this list around, use it with your team as a tool to make sure you are always on the right track of not only knowing your customers better, but knowing what they want and then providing it to them. It’s only common sense.

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You Gotta Keep Trying

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Even after 11 tries!

I read a book the other day that said that you have to make at least eleven contacts with a company before they become a customer. Eleven contacts? Wow no wonder so many people don’t make it in sales? Eleven is about eight more than most people I know, try before they get discouraged and move on.

There are many reasons for moving on, for stopping, after two or three contacts, the first being that you don’t want to be a pest. You don’t want the target to start hating you for your stubborn consistency. Most of us are pretty polite folks, and we feel that we know the difference between being a good conscientious salesperson, and a pain in the neck. But then again, I have spoken to many buyers who will tell me things like. “He called me so many times, that after a while I had to give him a try.” Or, “I’m not sure about sales people today, it used to be that they would keep calling me, but now most of them stop after three times. And, that’s a shame because by the time I need them and their products they are gone, and they miss the chance to do business with me.”

Let’s be clear, these contacts don’t have to all be phone calls nor do they have to be live customer visits. They just have to be contacts or what I call “touches” of the customer. Here are some examples of eleven “touches”, you can give a potential customer. For these examples, let’s use a target customer who does not know who you are or what you do; a target customer you get from a directory:

  1. The first touch will be an email. Send the target a well written email explaining who you are and something about your company and what it does. This email will be send to everyone one your target list as well, a mass email.
  2. The second touch will be a value-added newsletter about your company, focused on how your can help the target.
  3. The third touch will be an actual phone call, with the goal of setting up a face to face appointment. Chances are you will get voice mail, you could get voice mail a number of times, before you actually talk to the person. Make sure the voice message you leave is always cheerful, polite, and yes, even intriguing. By the way chances are very good that the buyer will never call you back. But rest assured, she is getting your messages and knows who you are.
  4. The fourth touch is when you finally get the person to answer the phone. This could happen by sheer luck of timing, or the buyer could have answered in purpose. During this touch, try to engage the person in a conversation, making sure this conversation is focused on her needs. Remember, it is always better to listen, than to talk. And, if this call is done correctly you should be able to start developing your strategy for winning this account. Also remember to ask for in person meeting.
  5. The fifth touch is the actual meeting. Check this out, it took four touches to get to that first face to face meeting, and the meeting, is just the start of the next phase. Now the meeting; make sure you have a goal for that meeting. What do you want to accomplish during the meeting and how will you accomplish that goal? Chances are if you do a good job you will walk away with the promise of an RFQ.
  6. The sixth touch is the follow up. This is a thank you and summary email where you list the things you talked about and also add a gentle reminder of that quote package you were promised.
  7. The seventh touch will be a week or so later, when you have not heard from that buyer and you make a phone call to leave a message reminding the buyer of your meeting and the promise of a quote package.
  8. The eighth touch will be when it is time to pick up that quote package. The buyer will either call you in or will send you the package. Now you are getting warmer, closer to success!
  9. The ninth touch will be if you have questions about the package. Make sure they are good questions.
  10. The tenth touch will be delivering the quote package. Try to make this one in person so you can ask about your chances of winning the package.
  11. The eleventh touch will be to follow-up your quote to see if you won it or not. If you did not win it, then you need to find out what it will take to win it next time. If you did win it, congratulations! You are an overnight success, after only eleven touches and about six months.

The thing to remember is to keep trying. But there are a couple of things to consider as well. First make sure that the account you are targeting is a worthwhile target. That they have they fit into your “ideal customer profile” if they do great, if not move on. The second is to make sure that you are getting somewhere. If after eleven touches you are no further along than you were at touch two then move on, there are other targets out there and you can better spend your time pursuing them. Remember what Willie Sutton said about why he robbed banks, “it’s where the money is.” It’s only common sense

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You Have To Love Your Product

You’d better love what you sell.

That’s what successful salespeople do.

dan-5

First, a true story about company loyalty…on steroids! My father was a very hard-working Coca Cola salesman. No matter the weather, rain, or shine, snow, sleet, hail, whatever, he was out there every day driving on the back roads of Maine, delivering his heavy cases of soda. And, he like all Coke salesmen, (sorry there were no Coke sales women back then) loved his product, He loved his company, and he loved the product. He loved it to the point that if he came to your house and saw Pepsi in your fridge, he would pour it out and replace it with Coke, free of charge.

The rivalry between Coke and Pepsi salesmen was hard core, they loved their company and hated the other company. True story (sorry this is a bit scary) One time, the company that made their coolers, you know the ones they put in the stores with their logo all over them, mistakenly delivered a Pepsi cooler to the Coke plant where my father worked. So, what do you think they did? Of course, they should have called the company and asked them to replace the cooler with the right one, right? But did they do that? Nooo.

Here’s is what they did. They loaded up the cooler on a Coke truck and took it to one of the guys’ houses. They filled with it with ice and beer. They drank all the beer, and then they took sledge hammers to the cooler and completely destroyed it. Then, and this is the best part. They dropped it off in front of the Pepsi plant, filled with empty cans of Coke!

Now that’s being loyal to your company!

Oh, there is one more story about my father and his loyalty to Coke that demonstrates that he did have a sense of humor after all. Later in his career he showed up at a family Halloween party dressed in a Pepsi uniform and carrying a six pack of Pepsi! The family couldn’t believe it. He was the hit of the party.

How about you? Do you feel you are selling the best product on the market today?  Are you so proud of what you sell, that you brag about it to everyone you know? Are you so confident that your products are the best products on the market that you make it your mission to make sure that everyone who needs it buys it.  And do you actually feel sorry for those poor customers who don’t take advantage of your product and all the benefits it comes with?

To be a successful sales person, you must feel like you’re doing your customers a favor by giving them the opportunity to buy your products. You want to tell as many people as possible about the great solutions to their problems you’re offering them.

Then, the next best thing is getting your customers as excited as you are about your products. Enthusiasm is contagious, and the more enthusiastic you are, the more enthusiastic your customers will be.

If you have the right sales job, and you believe in your company and its products, you’re going to be jumping out of bed in the morning, anxious to can talk to as many people as possible, converting them to becoming fans of the products you’re selling.

The true job of a salesperson is to get the customer off the fence, and onto his side of that fence. And, the best way to do this, is to demonstrate the true value of your product. If all the customer wants to talk about is price, then you have not done your job properly. You must convince your customer that your product is so valuable, that he will want to pay, what you have convinced him the price should be.

A perfect example of a “valuable” product is college. People feel that a good college education is so valuable to their children that they will pay any price. Think about that for a minute, the price of a Harvard education is now a quarter of a million dollars, and still people are breaking their backs to get in…and they only let in one out of five applicants. Now that is perceived value!

And, that’ exactly what we have to do with our products. Raise the perceived value so high that our customers will feel guilty even haggling about price. And, to do that you have to love your product, love it as much, as much as my dad the Coke man loved his product. It’s only common sense.

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On Selling Value

Dan - books

Let’s stop and think for a minute. What can you offer that goes way beyond the product itself? What can you offer that will get your customer thinking beyond price issues? What do you have to offer that will make your customer tremble with terror when his CPA suggests dumping you because your prices are 20% higher than anyone else’s? And what drives your customer to tell his CPA to forget it, because he considers your products, services, and—most importantly—your overall value to him to be so strong that he does not want to live without your company at any cost? That is true value, and that is why selling value is so important—not only to your customer, but to you as well.

Check out Tom Hopkins’ great book on customer service, The Art of Selling. Hopkins has coined the phrase “The 7 Cs of Customer service,” which he described in a blog post:

The first C stands for Concern. I think people want to know that you are more concerned with serving them, helping them, and that they are happy, and want a long term relationship with you than you are with making the sale and getting the check. They want to feel that concern and many people in sales don’t get the dollar signs out of their eyes. If a person feels you need the sale and they feel pressure to purchase a product they’re not ready to commit to, they will fight you because they want your concern.

The second C is Competence. People demand competence and they deserve it. Clients expect you to be an expert. They want you to know your trade and your profession. They want to be able to rely on your professionalism.

The third C is Courtesy. Great people in sales are very polite. They are concerned about their manners, and they are very concerned about their vocabularies. They don’t in any way insult a person’s values by saying anything that might offend them. Our society is constantly changing its expectations for business behavior. Sadly, those expectations are often lowered, but I believe the highest paid people in business are very polite, very courteous and watch their vocabularies so they don’t insult the values of the people they are speaking with.

The fourth C is Commitment. This is one I find lacking in the business today. People are not willing to commit and dedicate themselves to becoming the very best in their industries. As you read this, I hope you realize that the top professionals make a commitment—it’s called being willing to get out of balance for a period of time so that someday they can have complete balance. I believe in balance in our lives today, but I also believe that in building a business you have to be willing to spend some time out of balance. That means if you have a family, you need to sit down with the family and say, “We are going to commit 24 months of putting in more time and effort. And, if I do everything that I have to do as a professional, I can work less time with much more income for the family. This will come about only because we are willing to make this commitment.”

The fifth C is Composure. It’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to get upset and frustrated with this business. Realize that you are in the people business and have chosen the vehicle of your particular industry to serve the needs of others. In the people business you can get messed up if you don’t keep your composure.

The sixth C is Consistency. Every professional I have ever trained who has gone on to be one of the best is consistent. Those pros know exactly how many contacts they need to make each day. They know exactly the number of calls, exactly the number of people they are going to visit, which will result in so many products sold and they make that commitment to consistency.

The seventh C is Creativity. The people I meet who do the best are very creative. In other words, if they have a challenge, they overcome it by being creative. If something is wrong in their lives, they handle it by being creative. If you have a sale that is about to fall out or cancel, get creative. If it doesn’t go through, don’t get depressed—become more creative. Approach it with the attitude that you will take what you learn from this opportunity and develop your creativity.

By concentrating on your buyers’ needs and giving them the proper service they deserve, you’ll develop a career that will support you and your loved ones for a lifetime! (Copyright Tom Hopkins International Inc.)

This is fantastic stuff, man. And here is what we need to do. We need to follow Tom’s rules to a T and come up with some ideas of our own.

Here are a couple that I have personally used over the years:

  • If your company messes something up like a field reject, a quality issue, or a late delivery, and the customer is really upset, then get over there. Drop what you are doing and go visit that customer and talk to him face to face. It may provide him with nothing more than a live butt to kick or a live person to yell at, but it will be worth it in the long run. He will remember your courage and caring enough to come and see him live and in person. Yes, he will respect you in the morning.
  • Here is another one. Living in New England where it snows once in a while, I always made a point to get in my Jeep and visit customers during those storms. Man, did that impress them! They talked about that for years and established my reputation as a guy who would go to any lengths to service his customers.

And there are numerous stories of people going to great lengths, chartering a plane, driving all night, doing whatever they could to dramatically deliver product on time.

These stories not only exemplify great customer service, they also become a part of your reputation as an outstanding customer service company. And that is really what customer service is all about. It’s only common sense.

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Finding & Hiring The Right Sales Rep

dan-5Just think how much time and money you can save by choosing the right sales person for your sales force. If you take the time to do it right, if you develop and implement a hiring process that fully vets the candidate before you hire her, it will pay off exponentially. Hiring too fast is almost always disastrous. One of the poorer characteristics of being a sales person is shooting from the hip. We all believe in our gut instinct so much that the faster we can come to a decision, the better we feel about ourselves. This is not a good… actually, it is a pretty bad thing because we often make the wrong decision when it comes to choosing sales people. Sales people are good at selling themselves because, well because they are sales people. Combine that with our pride in making fast decisions and it’s no wonder that we consider finding and keeping the right sales people is one of our biggest challenges as sales managers.

There are many aspects to proper vetting and hiring of the right sales people and one of these is identifying and evaluating the right characteristics of a Peak Performer. From the soon to be published book called The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading your team to the Top by Kevin Davis, here are some key skills of Peak Performers that you should look for in your Peak Performing sales person:

  • Good Communicator
  • Organized
  • Negotiates well
  • Great selling skills
  • Develops killer proposals
  • Great work ethic
  • Self-motivated
  • Positive attitude
  • Team player
  • Competitive
  • Honest
  • Creative
  • Problem solver
  • Notice the ones that are about attitude. These are the most important ones.

As Davis mentions, these are skills and as important as they are for a sales person to have even more important than these skills are characteristics the exemplify “Wills” or positive attitude and these are:

  • Prospects consistently
  • Enthusiasm for resolving customer problems/complaints
  • String work ethic (hardworking and diligent)
  • Strong initiative (can work efficiently without being told what to do)
  • Competitive drive
  • Results-oriented
  • A positive influence on co-workers
  • Learns quick and is coachable
  • Tenacious (keeps focused until an outcome is achieved)
  • Constantly looks for opportunities to learn and improve

And finally, again from the book, are three observable behaviors that you as the person hiring the candidate should be looking for in that candidate:

Competitive: Hates to lose. Constantly working on getting better

Good work ethic: High activity level. Determined to complete tasks. Hates to miss quotes

Problem solver: Accepts responsibility for solving problems. Can define the problem’s causes and solutions. Understands that their solutions can’t create more problems for co-workers.

Creating a success profile using these characteristics and then applying it to the hiring process will go a long way to assuring your selection of the best candidate for the job. But it is not the only thing you should be doing. There should be team synergy, the candidate must fit in well with the rest of the team. She has to comply with the company’s culture and most importantly, the candidate must be ready and willing to sell what the company produces. This last comment might seem obvious but it is not.

If you are a quick-turn prototype fabricator specializing in producing high-mix low-volume orders for your customers, then be careful if your sales candidate comes from a high-volume production background. Be especially on the lookout for the candidate who keeps talking about how much better it is to sell what he was selling before than what your company sells.

Make it clear to that candidate that you sell what you sell, that’s your product, your sweet spot and you are not going to change. Let the candidate know that he must make a decision, and then a commitment to sell your products when he comes on board. And, if he persists in talking about the benefits of what he sold at his former company then take the hint and invite him to return to his former company.

You, as a sales manager do not need to waste you time convincing your sales people to be selling what you produce.

Hiring the right sales people is like everything else you do in life. It starts with knowing exactly what you want and then going out and getting it. During the hiring process is the right time to make sure that the person in front of you is the right person, that she has all the characteristics and skill that you want in a member of your sales team. Vet that person carefully to make absolutely certain she is the right person for your team. And once you are convinced that she is, hire her. It’s only common sense.

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Questions To Ask Potential Sales Reps

dan-6The problem with finding and hiring the right sales person is that, well they are sales people, they know how to sell, they know how to talk a good game, in fact so good a game that it’s hard to figure out if they are in fact really good or just great talkers!

So you have to dig a little deeper when hiring sales than say, if you were hiring people for operations or engineering. Generally those folks know their stuff or they don’t and that doesn’t take long to figure out.

Sales people on the other hand, well…

So here are some interview questions that I like to ask when I am interviewing a sales person for one of my clients.

  1. How well do you know your customers? Give me a specific example.
  2. What would your customers say about you? Name a least three customers and tell me what you think they would say about you if I were to call them.
  3. Tell me about a time when you’re company really messed up and you had to go in and save the account. What did you do?
  4. It’s the third week of the month. A lot of product is due at the end of the month and your company’s plating line goes down and just about all of your boards are going to be delayed for at least five days. What’s your plan? What are you going to do?
  5. What process do you use to find a new customer? Take me through your entire process from lead generation to that first order.
  6. They say that you have sell a new customer twice. First you have to convince the customer and then you have to convince your own company. How do you do that?
  7. What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced as a sales person?
  8. What is the biggest success you have ever had as a sales person?
  9. We do not sell on price. How will you sell around the price issue? Please give me an example.
  10. How do you plan your day, your week, your month your year?
  11. How do you forecast? You do forecast right?
  12. We like our sales people to “own” their territories. What does that mean to you? How do you own your territory?

These are all very legitimate question designed to give you real insight into what kind of sales person you are hiring by the way she answers these questions.

For example if the candidate sales that she does not believe in forecasting and then gives you five reasons why forecasting does not work you’ve got a real problem and it’s a huge indicator that this person will not work out for you.

Here are some other possible answers that wills signal a red light to their hiring:

  • Listen carefully to the person’s answer to the question about selling on price. This is the ringer in all of these questions. A great sales person will answer this directly and clearly using all of your company’s assets to demonstrate how to make the sales (which means that he has completely checked out your company).
  • The answer to the question about lead generation and prospecting. There are a great many sales people today especially with the more “experienced” sales people who will claim that lead generation and prospecting is dead. This means that they hate cold calling always have and are not going to start doing it for your company. Sales is all about contacting someone you don’t know and convincing them to buy something from you. If your candidate is not willing to do that he is not a good candidate move on.
  • When you ask them about how they plan their day, week, month and year they’d better have a great answer. Sales is all about planning. It is all about the homework and this questions is designed to indicate whether or not the candidate is a professional.

Now here a few more bonus questions. This group is designed to really give you some insight into the true passion of the candidate for her profession:

  1. How to you keep up with your profession? What courses do you take? What seminars do you take part in?
  2. What is the last book you read about business? Tell what you thought of that book?
  3. Who is your favorite business writer?
  4. Do you watch any business shows on Television?

And finally the last group of questions; these are designed to discover how up to date and forward thinking your candidate is:

  1. Are you on LinkedIn? How many connections do you have?
  2. What are your thoughts on social media in general?

And that’s about it. Obviously these are recommended questions and certainly you can come up with some of your own that will be at least equally as good. But I would urge you to take these questions very seriously and then take the entire interview process even more seriously. Hiring a sales person is one of the most if not the most important decision you have to make as a sales manager so make sure you take all of the time it takes to find out everything you can about your candidate. An extra hour in the interview process could save you weeks if not months or even years later on…not to mention thousands if not hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in lost sales in the future. It’s only common sense.

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How To Beat The Big Guys

dan-7Author’s note: while this post is geared towards the Printed Circuit Board industry, most of the ideas are applicable to other industries.

There has for some time now been an ever growing gap in annual revenue numbers between the large international board shops and the smaller local board shops. While most of the smaller North American shops are in the under $50 million-a-year revenue range, the big guys are now hovering around the billion-dollar a year range. There are a few exceptions for sure, but this is accurate for the most part.

This means that the smaller guys have to use all of the tools at their disposal to make sure they stay in the game, and grow their customer base and annual revenue to stay ahead of those billion-dollar steamrollers.

And the cold hard fact is that the smaller guys are on their own. They have no one to look out for them, no one at all. Over the years, IPC has made it abundantly clear that they have a vast amount of interest in the big guys, but very little interest in the smaller shops. So those of us working for or with the smaller companies have to stand on our own; we have to stand tall with a never-failing, never-faltering will to do whatever it takes to succeed in this market.

So, with that in mind, here are 10 advantages a small board shop has vs. the big guys. These advantages can help you successfully sell against the big international PCB fabricators:

  1. You are small strong and flexible. You can offer things that the big guys are too big to offer. You can offer your flexibility as one advantage that your customer gains by working with you. You can change dates easily, update revs quickly, and work directly with the customers’ engineering teams, just to name just a few of these advantages.
  2. You can be much easier to deal with. Being small means having less bureaucracy. You can work with the customer and provide him whatever he wants without having to track down your boss’s boss to see if you can change your policy.
  3. Related to that, if you are a smaller company, your owner is in the house instead of being out on the golf course with some Wall Street fat cats. Your owner is right there in the building and he can work directly with the customer at any time.
  4. Your boss and everyone else in management, for that matter, knows how to spell “PCB.” Chances are he grew up in the business and knows what he is talking about. He can talk PCB with your customers. In most cases, but not all, the big guys can’t make that claim.
  5. If you are a smaller company, your customer can rest assured that he knows exactly where his parts are being built. But in a big company, the customer may make a deal with a division in Sheboygan thinking this is where his product is being built, only to find out his boards are being built in Shanghai. Yes, it happens…it happens all the time.
  6. If you are a smaller shop, you can offer personal assistance to your customers’ engineers and designers. You can work on their new products together, developing them by working side-by-side. Try that with a huge global company.
  7. Customers who work with smaller companies don’t have to worry about being too small. A $50,000-a-year customer is a big deal to a $10 million board shop, but is actually so meaningless to a billion-dollar company that they have been known to chastise their salespeople for getting an order from that customer.
  8. If you are a smaller shop, you tend to treat your customers with the respect that all customers are due when they invest their hard earned dollars in your services. Do you really think that happens with these huge companies? Go back and read number 7.
  9. And if you are a smaller shop, you care about your craft, the craft of building PCBs. You’re trying to build the very best product that money can buy. You are PCB people in the PCB business.
  10. The huge companies are in the business of Wall Street, the stock market, and growth. They care, by legal obligation, more about their shareholders than they do about their customers. If that is not a distinct advantage for you as a smaller company, then nothing is!

Yes, there is one more. (Always under promise and over deliver.)

11. For some reason, which I still do not understand, most of your customers hate dealing with PCB companies who are bigger than they are. I think this might be based on the big companies’ arrogance.

So, there is hope for you smaller guys. As you can see there are a lot of reason why customers should prefer to work with you rather than those big guys. So keep at it, and stand proud, because you are still the hope and the future of the PCB industry.

It’s only common sense.

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