The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing?by Jeffrey W. Hayzlett
Jeff Hayzlett is a big, boisterous guy who has the guts to get in your face and tell you exactly why your business isn't doing well. In short, he asks the questions that most business managers are afraid to ask. And as Jeff points out, if you aren't willing to look at what's working and what isn't - and then take the necessary steps to fix them well, you and… See more details below
Jeff Hayzlett is a big, boisterous guy who has the guts to get in your face and tell you exactly why your business isn't doing well. In short, he asks the questions that most business managers are afraid to ask. And as Jeff points out, if you aren't willing to look at what's working and what isn't - and then take the necessary steps to fix them well, you and your colleagues and employees are in for a tough ride.
Known for his outspoken appearances on numerous TV reality shows, Hayzlett has built his career on having the ability to get his people to look up and pay attention to the problems at hand. THE MIRROR TEST will teach readers through entertaining and timely anecdotes how to thoughtfully yet aggressively evaluate, deconstruct, and then reconstruct one's business..
In his unique, confrontational manner, Hayzlett will coach small business owners and managers on topics such as:
- Give your business the mirror test - is your company really breathing?
- Here's how you and your company must adapt...or die.
- The bottom line of your business really is... your bottom line. You have to focus on it.
Hayzlett's big booming approach is direct and to the point, but done so with a smile on his face. Chock full of inspirational business stories and insights from his own career, Hayzlett and THE MIRROR TEST comprise a force to be reckoned with.
- Hachette Book Group
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- 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)
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The Mirror TestIs Your Business Really Breathing?
By Hayzlett, Jeffrey W.
Business PlusCopyright © 2010 Hayzlett, Jeffrey W.
All right reserved.
The First Mirror Test
Proof of Life
In life, the basic mirror test is so simple that elementary school kids learn it: Hold a mirror near your mouth and nose. When you exhale, the mirror fogs. The mirror test is proof of life: You’re breathing; you’re alive.
In business, the basic mirror test is equally simple. If you’re making money and growing, you’re breathing; you’re alive. If you’re not making money and growing, you’re dead. And if you’re not growing faster than your competitors (i.e., breathing comfortably), you’re dying. Unfortunately, too many businesses fall into this last category and, to borrow Billy Crystal’s line from The Princess Bride, are “mostly dead.”
Sorry if I sound all gloom and doom, but zero percent growth is not surviving, it’s dying—and to be honest really, really boring. If you’re going to die, you might as well do it right—shoot for the moon and fail spectacularly. So, are you really alive? What stories are you telling yourself instead of the truth—how good you look? Looking good is no measurement of health. All the latest equipment and technology, that snazzy office space or storefront, and your belief in your business are important, but not without growth. And it starts here with a complete understanding of why you are in business in the first place.
You’ll Look Great in Your Coffin Too
That’s right, before you build the bottom line, before you deliver value and upgrade your sales and marketing, you need to go back to the beginning. You need to focus on:
- Why you are in this game at all
- How passion is no substitute for planning
- What your “118” is and why you need it
Trust me, I’ve been there. I learned life’s mirror test in the Cub Scouts, but learning the mirror test for business was much harder and in the end earned (and cost) me much more than a merit badge.
Despite my forays into big business, I’m not some suit with a fancy education who is reverse engineering a few multibillion-dollar plans for businesses based on what I learned in classrooms and boardrooms. I am not some guru who teaches how, but has never done (or done once and now thinks he can write a “tell all”). No. I’m a jeans-and-cowboy-boots guy who sharpened his skills and developed his ideas by actually running businesses (most of them small), creating plans, and executing them on the local, national, and international level.
I know what it’s like to face the mirror test. I once saw Fran Tarkenton (who became a successful entrepreneur after his Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Vikings) speak about the ups and downs of football versus the ups and downs of business. I remember laughing in complete agreement as he told me, “You haven’t experienced anything until you’ve laid awake late at night wondering if you’re going to make the next payroll.” Sound familiar? Yes, this jeans-and-cowboy-boots guy after more than two decades ended up at a Fortune 500 company, but I have walked miles in your business boots and still work with small businesses all over the country.
I have even failed the mirror test. Heck, anyone can have a business fail the mirror test. I just wish it had happened to anyone but me. I made some stupid mistakes and did some stupid things, but two words sum up the biggest mistake of my professional career: pheasant farming.
Pheasants Are for the Birds
Early in my career (but not so early that I shouldn’t have known better), I thought pheasant farming was the most fabulous idea ever. After all, I loved to hunt and eat pheasants. When I took people with me, they loved it too. And when I served guests those beautiful birds, they devoured them with delight.
My passion fueled my desire and my business plan. I reached out to a bunch of friends and associates and sold them on the idea. Many of us invested all we had. We moved quickly to capitalize on the market and never questioned or even researched the lack of competition. We became consumed with the idea. We saw money everywhere. We were pioneers. We planned to set up giant outdoor pens on the prairies where the pheasants could fly and run around as if in the wild, and then we’d process the pheasants or sell them live to hunting operations. We found a farm and a recently bankrupt (should have been our first hint) slaughtering facility. We were going to sell fresh and smoked pheasants to chefs and restaurants and stores. We were going to sell them in gift baskets state- and nationwide.
I had never invested more money in anything in my life, but it was a no-brainer to me. And that’s literally what it was: all passion, no brains—the pheasants and me.
Do you know what you get when you buy a pheasant, raise a pheasant, and try to sell a pheasant? A huge turkey! Pheasants are the dumbest birds in the world. In the wild, they are resourceful, but domesticated? These are birds that during a thunderstorm will actually group together, turn their heads to the sky, and drown themselves. Seriously. Mirror test? Hold a mirror up to a pheasant and it’ll likely crap all over it. I should have taken that as a sign, because that’s what our plan was too: crap. It was like taking a wagon full of money, grinding it into pellets, and feeding it to the birds.
It is fine to want to corner the market in something— own it top to bottom—until you realize there isn’t even a market to bottom out in. The hunting operations didn’t exist yet. The gift basket people had no idea what to do with pheasants. Consumers did not know how tasty and succulent the birds were. You might think about similar stories over the years like chinchilla and alpaca farms, but at least infomercials and aggressive sales pitches fueled those crazes. This was on me; my dreams of money and passion for the product carried me away. We lost everything. I had to borrow money from family and set up long-term repayment deals with the bank for years to pay off that debt.
And every time I drive down that long lonely highway on the South Dakota prairie where the farm was—something I unfortunately often have to do—I don’t just want to cry. I want to drive my pickup through the building. In fact, I’m so depressed thinking about it, I can’t finish this book…
Success Once Is Not Success
So, what happens when you hit rock bottom like that? Well, this was not do or die, this was just die—nothing left to do but realistically look at the wreckage and honestly confront what you’ve done. But I have seen similar problems with businesses that were not DOA. Some businesses started out strong, grew quickly, gained volume, reevaluated their products and services effectively, and then even optimized well, but along the way (most likely at the beginning) they still became obsolete and failed. Businesses, like all things, have life cycles. Their histories are full of cyclical patterns. (I’ve listed a few of my favorite business books in the Appendix.) And in business, passing the basic mirror test once does not mean you will the next day, or year, or decade…
To do this, every business—from pheasant-farming bad to Apple-Computer good—must ask itself over and over the same one-word question: “Why?”
Any Direction Is a Good One, If You Don’t Know Where You’re Heading
Tom White, who runs the leadership training company Profoundly Simple, said it best: “Everybody should have some idea why they’re doing what they are doing.” So, I ask you, “Why?” And don’t say, “Because.” That answer might get you an A in Philosophy 101, but it won’t fog the mirror. Before we can focus on the mirror tests that help you grow and protect your bottom line and excel as a leader, proof of life for any business begins by answering the most basic “why” question: Why are you even here—why are you doing what you do? You’d be surprised how many businesses (from the owners down to the lowest tier of employees) do not know or cannot answer that question.
Try it now. Before you get to value and sales and marketing and all the things you can do to grow—before you turn to another book or webinar that gives you microsolutions for your macroproblem—answer the question. Don’t say, “I know why,” and move on. Really do it. Write it down. Speak it. I’m not saying it is easy, but if you can’t answer the question, then you’ll not only be unsatisfied with your business, your business is probably already dying in some way. And even if you know it, say it proud: Like your body or your car, a little maintenance never hurts.
Why Are You in Business? Answer the Question
I’ll keep asking the question in all kinds of ways until you answer:
- Why are you even here—why are you doing what you do?
- What is it that you want to do? Make money? Build huge profits? What then?
- What is the purpose of what you are doing? Do you want to please people? Build the best widget? Serve the best damned cup of coffee?
- What do you want to do after profitability? Expand? Be the best in the business?
- What do you seek? Are you looking for a better way of life? A better lifestyle? Well-being? Safety?
- Do your customers know the answers? Do your employees? Do you?
- Where are you going and what do you want to be when you grow up?
Okay, okay, there I go, sounding like “dad” again, but all this is essential to any business’s health.
Think of these questions as a way to understand your personal conditions of satisfaction for your business. “Conditions of satisfaction” is business-speak for the criteria used to measure the outcome of a plan or project or contract. I’m just taking it back to the beginning: What are your main criteria for the direction you want to go? I developed my conditions of satisfaction PP (post-pheasant), and whether I have been running a small business in South Dakota or moving up the ranks of a global company, the business I worked on had to meet the following conditions: It had to have the ability to grow wealth, it had to allow me to grow professionally, and it had to be fun. Those have been my conditions of satisfaction for decades, and they always remind me why I’m in “it” at all.
But don’t confuse fun with passion.
Passion Can Get You More Turkeys (or Pheasants) Than Gravy
I am always passionate about what I do and sell, but following your passion can cloud your business judgment. When I press business owners to answer any of the questions I just threw at you, most of them babble something about their passion for doing XYZ. But I don’t buy that as an answer—especially if they are successful.
- It is all fine and good to think about getting into a business because you are enamored of and passionate about the idea—and you want to be passionate about what you do—but then what?
Simply put, owning a business (big or small) is not for everyone, and riding passion alone often clouds your judgment. Even if you ignore the high failure rate for great ideas built on solid plans, most of us would prefer not to have the never-ending responsibility of a payroll, business loans, taxes, etc. Passion for the product rather than the process makes you forget this—passion can cause you to lose your focus. Someone told me they knew people who started restaurants (a business with a huge failure rate), because someone liked a dinner or recipe and said, “You should start a restaurant.” And they listened.
I Don’t Care What You’re Selling; Passion Is Not the Answer
I don’t care how much someone loves your mom’s secret chili recipe. That person was standing too close to the oven with the pilot light out. Get some air and think things through. You can’t just hang a sign and then wonder why your business’s vital signs are faint. But that’s what passion can do to you. When we’re too enamored of a business idea or an idea for our business, we get caught up in what we think that business might do. We set unreasonable expectations and we don’t stay grounded. I had learned firsthand from my pheasant fiasco the problems of putting passion before the promise of success—BAR NONE. I put that in caps because that would have been the appropriate name for the business my brother-in-law briefly thought about buying when consumed by passion.
The bar was in the middle of rural South Dakota and as we drove past its crowded parking lot one Friday night, he says, “That place must make a killing.” All this based on the energy of a crowded lot on the busiest night of the week. So I reviewed the overhead with him. We thought about how many people went to the bar on average and how much they spent. We estimated revenue from the hours it would be open and with little options for growth came up with the profits for the owner: $16,000 annually including salary. Breathing, but barely.
Smart business owners know they need to think through every element of their business even as they grow and change. This is why you always read stories of how the creative and technological geniuses behind successful start-ups got partners and hired CEOs to run their businesses when they were ready to leave their parents’ garage. They realized they had passion and a great product but knew they could not do the accounting, managing, and selling to make it a business. All successful business owners will need to do this eventually.
But first you need to get your passion in check and think it all through as you find your direction. And when you’ve got your passion in check, answered the why question, and identified your conditions of satisfaction, the mirror will start to fog. So, take a deep breath. Now, pitch me.
Elevators Are Too Slow These Days—You Need a “118”
I had him. I knew it. I had been ready with my pitch and when I got him on the phone, I sold him big time. But as soon as I heard he was hooked, I stopped. I didn’t try to close the sale then and there. Instead, I tried to better position myself to take advantage of his interest and asked him for a bit of time a few days later.
“Let me ask you, are you an early morning person or an afternoon person?”
“Great, so are you a coffee or tea man or do you like juice or water?”
“Milk or cream? Light or dark?”
“Bagels, donuts, muffins, or cottage cheese?”
“Great. So I’ll see you Tuesday morning at 7:15. I’ll bring bagels and coffee and give you a fifteen-minute presentation of my product as you eat your breakfast.”
Once again, my “118” had succeeded. Now, I could close the sale the way I like: in person.
The 118 is my version of what some people still call “the elevator pitch”—an out-of-date name for the worthy idea that you need to sell what your company offers (and you) in the span of an elevator ride. Problem is that time used to mean up to three to five minutes. Now, it’s mere seconds. Technology has not only made things (including elevators) move faster but also has increased the need for speed and immediate relevance in pitching. You have seconds before I tune you out and maybe two minutes after that to completely sell me with your initial pitch.
What’s Your “118”?
The 118 comes from the 118 seconds you actually have to pitch: 8 seconds to hook me and up to 110 seconds to drive it home—less than two minutes with only seconds to spare. The first eight seconds is the length of time the average human can concentrate on something and not lose some focus. It is also the length of time of one of the toughest rides in the world: a qualified ride in professional bull riding. In these first eight seconds, you must be compelling, strong, and focused to be successful. You must hold on as one of the meanest, toughest animals in the world tries to throw you off—just like any good prospect will. Make it those 8 seconds, and I’ll give you 110 more to drive your message home with no bull. But if you have not sold me at the end of the 118, I will start to tune out. At that point, we are moving forward to a sale or not.
I speak at hundreds of meetings, conferences, and events worldwide every year, and I am constantly amazed by the inability of entrepreneurs, business owners, their managers, or their sales and marketing representatives to deliver a great, relevant 118.
The 118, like the elevator pitch before it, sells much more than a business’s products or services and unique selling proposition (USP). It is an essential piece in building your brand. It conveys who you are, the assurance your business offers, and the promises you will deliver on. Think you have a brand? Brand is the biggest business buzzword, but what does it mean? To me a brand is just a promise made and kept to a customer. Your 118 helps define what promises your brand will build or make. It connects every promise you make to those around you. Too many businesses don’t focus on these promises and eventually they not only fail to build a brand, they just fail.
The 118 connects directly to the foundation of every business’s growth. I’m not saying a bad one means certain failure, but I have rarely seen a good one deployed in the right way fail to help a business grow. How could it not? It conveys to anyone what he or she will get from your business.
This is usually where people start to nod their heads as if to say, “I know.” But I am not looking for an “Amen.” I’m looking for action. This is proof of life, people, and no time to nod in agreement or say, “I know I should do that” or “I’ll get back to that after I keep reading.” Even when business owners can answer the “Why?” questions (and thus know why they are doing what they are doing), the typical stammering and yammering when I ask for their pitches indicates to me a huge inability to convey what they are doing to their team and customers.
So, put the book down and write down your 118. Even if you have a good one, do it. I’ll wait… Need help? I asked a few top performers about the best and worst pitches they received. Here is what a few had to say:
- “I was riding up the Gherkin elevator with Will Harris, the marketing director at Nokia. I asked, ‘What if you could get dozens of user-generated videos for less than $1,000 each with www.mofilm.com?’ He signed up before we reached the top floor and then Nokia went on to win the Cannes UGC competition with one of those videos.”—Jeffrey Merrihue, CEO, Accenture Marketing Sciences (London)
- “This [insert idea here] gives us competitive advantage (the only factor that leads to profitable growth), and trades on the four things we covet: our core essence (what we know how to do and what our consumers consider our credentials/leverage), speed (because speed kills), surprise (because surprise disorients even smart competitors), and concentration (the only way smaller guys break through enemy lines with ‘fewer resources’).”—Russ Klein, President, Global Marketing, Strategy, and Innovation, Burger King Corporation
- “The worst elevator pitch is one I hear frequently. It goes like this: Prospect: ‘What is it that you do?’ Salesperson: ‘I represent XYZ Company.’ Stop! What does that do to help build the relationship we all need in sales? Describe not whom you represent but what you do to help people solve the problems they have. Why not answer with, ‘I help people solve the problems of living too long, becoming disabled, or dying too soon.’”—Robert D. Lowrey, Managing Partner, Northwestern Mutual
- “The Best: We make print clickable. The Worst: We do anything and everything a company needs us to do as cheaply as possible.”—Andy and Julie Plata, Co-CEOs, OutputLinks, Inc., Graphic Communications World
The next step is to know your pitch cold—you have to do more than make your own Kool-Aid; you need to drink it too. With so many pitches coming from so many media, compromising attention spans and taking up bandwidth, I have no patience for poor pitching.
Work on your 118 again and again. Find a real mirror for this part of the test and talk to yourself. I do—I trained myself in front of a mirror to speak in sound bites for the media and 118s for my business. If no mirror is around, I sit in my office and speak to an empty chair.
If You Can’t Stand Pitching You, Then Why Would Anyone Else?
Once you do that, branch out and try your 118 on other people. Not in front of your family (your family will lie to you and tell you you’re good) but colleagues and friends you can trust to listen but don’t love you so much that they will be afraid to hurt your feelings if they think it sucks. Develop friendships with other business owners and create a sort of mini board of directors for your company that can help you with these mirror test issues—not a real board for legal and finance issues, but one that can help you get back to best practices, force you to ask the hard questions about your business, and dissect your 118 over lunch or coffee.
Next, try your 118 out on your team. Then, sit in your chair, turn the proverbial tables, and listen to your employees do it to you. In fact, invest time to get everyone in your business to know your 118 too—starting with you and then working your way down to the lowest tier of employees (the part-timers, the delivery people). And not just so everyone can repeat it like they’ve been hypnotized but say it like they mean it and feel it! “Practice, practice, practice” is not about memorization; it is about believing in what you are selling so the people you pitch feel it too and sell it well everywhere they go. (We’ll cover more on this and leading your employees in the next chapter.)
I always ask my salespeople to sell me before they sell anyone else, and I lead by example. I make them listen in on and take a few sales calls to the company so they can hear how the pitches are made and received and how ours compares. Sometimes I tell them that I want them to leave it on my voice mail and then I pick up the phone instead. Inevitably they get flustered but why? You should be ready with your sales pitch at any time, in any format. If I picked up the phone and then told them to e-mail me, I’d expect the e-mail in minutes too.
- Want to know if your team has your 118 down? Call them. Have someone you know make an inquiry to your company and listen in and hear how they pitch and respond before letting them free in the business “wild.”
And don’t limit yourself or your team to pitching in the office if that’s not where the pitches will be made. You need to know your audience and your environment. If the pitch is on-site, find time to sit in the room you’ll be using and practice the pitch there. If it is off-site, see if you can get in the room or at least understand its setup before you arrive. Think of yourself and your team as athletes on the day of a big game or race. All athletes go on the field before the game and visualize winning. You need to feel the same thing. You need to be comfortable so you can be as natural as possible.
And as Sandy Koufax, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, once said of his craft: “You get the work done by leverage and weight rather than force.” These words should be the foundation for any pitching you do: weight and leverage.
Weight and Leverage, Not Force
The last recession wiped out any chance of an easy “yes” based on the lure of easy money and plans that have nothing behind the smoke and mirrors—our mirror test’s evil twin. Koufax’s words remind us that presentation style is important but not without substance. (Remember: You’ll look good in your coffin too, but you’re dead.) You need something that appeals directly to the practical (and even emotional) needs of the person you are pitching. Energy, clarity, and style are important, but in pitching, content is king. People may hate hucksters like the late Billy Mays, but every product he pitched from car scratch fixes to cleansers grabbed your attention—he knew how to balance his debatable style with clear content that appealed to the audience’s needs and sold them.
Koufax won far more than he lost by honing his craft, studying hitters, and knowing their tendencies. He knew what the people facing him liked and disliked and could handle almost any situation. That’s leverage in pitching. Leverage in business starts the same way. Knowing your pitch is one thing, but knowing your audience is another. Making every pitch as targeted as possible and understanding how what you do fits into what your customer needs informs the substance of almost every chapter in this book, but here it relates to the most primary focus of the first mirror test: making sure your 118 connects to both your business and your audience so you can make the sale and grow.
Truth is, most salespeople don’t take the time to rehearse the pitch, let alone the customer they are pitching. It’s not like there aren’t resources to help you. Harvey Mackay’s “Mackay 66” is a list of 66 excellent fundamental questions that will help you learn the intimate details of any relationship and that every person selling something should ask. (Download it for free at: www.harveymackay.com/pdfs/mackay66.pdf.) Yet people still fill my Facebook page, voice mail, e-mail inboxes, and my literal desktop with stupid pitches and silly messages. This is called losing before you begin. I get salespeople pitching my Fortune 500 company by telling me how their products are going to increase our sales by $10,000 and more—I lost more than $10,000 just reading one of their pitches. Here’s a hint: I see no value in getting to know you or your family. If you get me, I’m going to ask you these pointed questions:
- What specific sales expectations do you have?
- How is your product or service going to achieve those expectations?
- What does your value proposition mean to my business and me?
If you have the answers (and the rare pitcher who does wins my respect), I will listen. If not, I will invite you to come back when you do to see if you can offer me any value. I will tell you that 99 percent never come back. That’s because even if they have a good pitch, they have no idea how to pitch to their audience. They keep hitting me with generalities instead of addressing their experience in my industry and their USP. And I’ll keep pushing them, but with every wave of withering questions the calls and e-mails start to trail off. There’s an old joke from the speaker’s circuit about a store: Johnson’s Taxidermy & Veterinary Clinic—one way or another you’ll get your dog back. It could be everything to everybody; you can’t.
But even then, as Winston Churchill said, “They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.” Even great pitches can fall short for all kinds of reasons. But I’m likely to remember and even recommend to others a great pitch that I reject for the right reasons than the wrong pitch that I never should have let in the door. People who take the time to do something right—integrate my logo into the material, demonstrate an understanding of my business and revenues, show they know something about who I am—never fail to impress me. I know we live in an immediate-gratification-fast-paced-Tweeting world, but as we will see, speed without relevance is nothing.
I, like many executives (and all your customers), am more reachable than I have ever been. I am busy, sure, but the closer you get to the c-suite of any decent-sized business, the quieter it gets. It is sometimes easy to get these people on a one-to-one basis with the right approach. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll listen without a great 118—or buy without an equally targeted and smart follow-up.
To pass this mirror test, please don’t give me long PowerPoint presentations with ridiculously cluttered and wordy slides. Remember the Ten Commandment Rule: Like Moses and his tablets, get your pitch down to two slides, five bullet points each. Anything more to capture your point is too much. When you’re ready, I’ll listen. We’ve got a little ways to go yet, but I’ll be here.
Bring bagels and a Diet Mountain Dew.
Just Breathe—You Still Have Work to Do
At this point, congratulations are in order: If you’ve gotten this far and done what I’ve asked, you are on your way to not simply passing but acing all the mirror tests. This first test was about taking the time to give your business a reality check and seeing if you really understand and can be clear about why you are in business in the first place. No business can fog the mirror without that.
Now, to power through on the work we’ve done and the promises we’ve made, we need to perform a mirror test for your bottom line and the three Cs that support it: community, customer, and competition. But first, we need to turn the mirror on you.
Excerpted from The Mirror Test by Hayzlett, Jeffrey W. Copyright © 2010 by Hayzlett, Jeffrey W.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Up until June 2010, JEFF HAYZLETT served as the chief marketing officer for Kodak. He has 25 years of international marketing and management experience and has received numerous global awards and honors, including the Frost & Sullivan Lifetime Achievement Award for marketing. He is currently chairman of the board of directors of the Business Marketing Association (BMA), a member of the board of directors of the Electronic Document Systems Foundation (EDSF), a member of the advisory board of the CMO Council and serves as chairman of SMEI's Foundation for Marketing Education. He is also a permanent trustee to the SMEI Academy of Achievement Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame.
JIM EBER is a veteran business management writer who has worked for various publishing houses, including Workman.
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