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Sales Enablement Soirée: Looking Forward: Sales Enablement in 2021, Fall 2020

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Welcome to the Sales Enablement Soirée session on Looking Forward and what sales enablement will look like in 2021. The sales enablement landscape continues to evolve and sales enablement practitioners need to understand what the future of the function looks like to adapt and change what the ever-changing needs of the market. This past year has accelerated certain trends and I’m excited to have Mary Shea here to speak with us today. She is a returning speaker to the Sales Enablement Soirée for the third year running. Mary Shea is a principal analyst serving Forresters B2B sales and marketing professionals, and her recent research has uncovered what these trends mean for selling in 2021, what organizations can expect moving forward, and how sales enablement will continue to evolve as a discipline at large and what sales enabled practitioners can do to prepare for the upcoming year. With that, I’ll hand it to one of my favorite speakers. Mary, take it away.

Mary Shea: Thank you, Shawnna. It’s great to be here and I’m very excited as this is one of my favorite events that I participate in each year. I’m going to share with you some current and new research that I think will really help inform how you’re thinking about your planning for 2021. So with that, let’s get started. I think when we look back and think about 2020, we’re going to think of this as a watershed moment. A moment when buying and selling has forever changed. And I think that’s actually a good thing in many ways, because even though we’re distant, we’re physically and socially separated from each other, organizations are now forced to find more creative ways of connecting at both the deeper and more meaningful level.
And I really love sharing these screenshots because it’s actually one of my favorite Forrester sales reps, Leah Arnold, on the right. You can see she’s actually creating a video pitch that she’s actually sending to the CEO of a pet manufacturing company, and she’s got her little dog with her. She’s also been really creative over the course of the last six months where she’s brought together practitioners external from Forrester internally and created these virtual coffee sessions, where all kinds of interesting discussions take place that are relevant for her territory and clients.
So I’ve been thinking about this as really a transformational time. And when I think about innovation and transformation goes from a business model, product and sales model perspective, I started to think about what happened in the past. Dixie cup actually was commercialized in 1918, even though it was invented in 1907, but it wasn’t successfully brought to market until the midst of the pandemic when society needed a way to consume beverages outside of the home. It’s a really interesting story. And then if you think of the last global economic downturn, it’s really the burst of the gig economy with Uber, Airbnb, and many other businesses that we know and love well, so I’m thinking of this period of time as a time when sales and marketing and buying is going to change and the interactions are going to get deeper and deeper.
And we’ll talk about that as I get further into the discussion here today, I want to start out with some data. So, this summer I wanted to try to get to the heart of what were some of the challenges that B2B sales leaders saw their teams facing in a pre COVID world? So I asked them the last six months of 2019, what were the top three challenges that their sellers encountered?And I don’t think some of you will be surprised about these. We’ve been talking about them for some time, although I think they’re continuing to be more and more present in the sales process. Buyers who include more and more stakeholders in the decision making process. And of course, if you have more stakeholders, they’re oftentimes going to have different and, or competing agendas. Buyers and customers taking longer to make decisions.
It’s not surprising if you have more people with different agendas, there’s going to take longer to build consensus. And buyers just want to talk about pricing and product. I found this one a little bit surprising when I first did the analysis of this data. And then I talked to some of our clients and some folks in the marketplace and it started to make sense to me as buyers are more and more independent. Researching on their own, going to peer review sites, hitting their own social networks, downloading digital content. They’re coming to that sales discussion with a much higher degree of understanding and expertise around your product and service. And so in some cases I want to get to the heart of the sales discussion quickly and understand what it’s going to cost or what the ROI is going to be, for that purchase. So prior to our COVID awareness, the last six months of 2019, these were the top challenges that sales leaders saw their seller spacing. I asked the same question, but I asked in the middle of the summer, “What were the top challenges these sellers faced in a COVID awareness world, or the first six months of 2020,” and you can see the answers are not remarkably different. You can see that the longer decision-making cycle becomes the number one concern or problem, not surprising at all. When we’re dealing with the economic ramifications of the pandemic, we still have multiple decision makers in the process and those stakeholders getting larger and larger.
But buyers who can’t meet with sellers in person is a real rising concern in the first half of this year. So when I first started thinking about what the implications of COVID would be on the selling and buying process, I came across some research that was conducted by corporate visions and they had 500 sales reps, managers, leaders who actually responded to the survey. So it’s a large sample set and 71% of the folks that answered that survey said they didn’t think sellers could be as effective in remote digital settings as they were in that face-to-face meeting. So clearly, this third item was on everyone’s mind at the time, but what I’ve seen in the conversations that I’ve had over the last several months is that business has continued to move forward. The cycles are longer and slower. You need to deliver a very strong ROI statement or help your buyers understand what the impact of your solution is going to be on their business outcomes. But sales are continuing to move which means that sellers have actually adapted and are getting better and engaging in a fundamentally remote and digital world.
So I want to switch and talk a little bit about some of the trends that have been in play. That has been accelerated by COVID and to be clear, our view at Forrester, in my view from a sales perspective, from the sales lens is that COVID did not create these trends. These trends were inaction well before we became aware of COVID, but the hardships brought forth by COVID have dramatically accelerated and amplified some of these trends that I’ve been talking about for some time. Now, maybe some of you have seen our predictions that we made in the half year. And I predicted that 80% of B2B sales in the future will happen in a remote or digital setting. But what’s really interesting to me is that I’ve been following the downward trajectory of the on-site sales meeting since 2017.
When one in seven business buyers said they prefer not to meet in person, they wanted to meet over a meeting platform like we are in today, they wanted to do some sort of interactive or digital session. They wanted the efficiency that was gained from that. And so we’ve been leading up to a world where I think, the onsite meeting is going to become less important. Now, certainly it’s not going to go away forever. And there are certain industries where meeting in person is going to be really necessary where you need to look someone in the eyes before you sign a super large global outsourcing deal or some sort of large energy deal, or maybe there’s something in the life sciences that has to happen from a relationship standpoint, but even some of these traditional businesses that rely on strong in-person relationships, we’re seeing those selling organizations shift pretty effectively to digital remote, augmented reality and so on. So, I say that this traditional sales approach where war road warriors are pitching in boardrooms, smoothing over meals and walking the halls, client offices aren’t a thing of the past.
So, if you can’t do that in person, how do you start to think about translating that in a remote session? And we’ll talk about that in a little bit. The other trend that I’ve been noticing is the blurring of inside and outside roles. And, I think as we move forward, we’ll start to lose the branding inside, outside sellers, start to think of sellers or sellers right now. Essentially everyone is a remote seller. And with that, I think we’ll see different types of ways of organizing sellers, different seller hierarchies and hope that we’ll start to see more org structure and seller assignment based on buyer-centric needs. So thinking about aligning the best type of seller with someone who wants to buy in, in a way that they have expertise around.
The other thing that we’ve been seeing trending is not just the utilization of these wonderful digital tools for sellers, but actually buyers who want to engage on their own or side-by-side with a seller in some of these self-directed tools. So you’re starting to see this happen with tools that are on websites. Those could be different types of ways to utilize interactive demos or ROI types of tools. In this particular example, this is a tool that helps sellers reframe the sales meeting. Imagine if you were actually going to a sales meeting, how many of you have done this? Where you spend a lot of money, you travel, you meet at Starbucks ahead of time, you practice and you get into the meeting and everyone’s on their device, not paying attention to the pitch. Well, this type of tool actually allows a buyer to do their own self discovery. They really pick what their persona is, what type of functionality or solution they’re interested in, what type of business problem they’re trying to solve. And they self-directed in a self-directed manner, sort of goes through this process of self discovery.
Now, this isn’t being done when they’re away from the salesperson. It’s being done, either with a sales person remotely, or the sales person is sitting beside them in the room when that is possible. And then all the rich data that’s gathered from how the buyer behaves is uploaded back to your system. So you really have a deeper understanding of what the buyer is interested in. So, instead of being a demo jockey, your seller starts to get elevated and becomes more of an advisor or consultant having a different level of conversation and not fighting to get attention from a buyer who is naturally distracted and wants to be on their device.
The other thing that we’re thinking about and talking a lot about from a trend perspective is this concept of a service or a SAS business model or delivery models being utilized outside of pure tech and tech services. And so this trend I’m calling a one-time sales motion, where you have a big spike before you close that deal, or depending on the type of business you have maybe 90 days out before the renewal, you have a big spike in activity. That’s really past its prime. What we’re told now is that buyers expect from their suppliers, ongoing, continuous value added, engagement throughout the entire life cycle. And just the examples here that I’m showing you on the visual. When you think about Budweiser, a Budweiser sales rep who’s actually going to sell an on-premise operator. They’re not selling cases of beer or beer handles anymore. They’re selling rich data and analytics that is from their point of sale, data as well as external third party data that they’re bringing in from other systems, which puts them in a position to provide really rich, consultative guidance to that restaurant operator on how to drive greater profit margins on a weekly and monthly and quarterly basis in an environment like this.
Being able to deliver that value at the street level is absolutely crucial. And then you think Microsoft here, they’re not selling, software solutions are selling a holistic suite to help organizations engage in all the ways they need to in the work environment. We’re also seeing more of a focus on post-sales personnel and that could be anywhere from your after sale folks who are customer success and tech or some others that are post-sale in different types of industries. And I should also mention sales engineers in the pre-sale or renewal type of process sort of could fall into this category. But these folks, I think have a more important role in helping to drive commercial outcomes, surfacing opportunities. So you’re going to start to see more members of the revenue team play a more instrumental role in adding value across the entire life cycle.
And then another concept, which is really kind of an extension of what I just talked about is more employees involved in revenue generation. And, as you think about how the buying committees are expanding and they’re expanding rapidly, so you’ve got, you know, procurement is playing more of a role right now. We’re hearing that CFOs are integrating themselves into every major sale that happens in our organization. They’re looking to deeply understand what the economic return on investment is. If they move forward with a vendor supplier and as you have a wider range of folks involved in the buy cycle, you’re also going to need to have a wider range of expertise on the sell side.
The other thing to mention here, why I think this trend is amplified by COVID. Our research showed that 41% of businesses have reduced the size of their sales organizations as a result of the economic challenges brought forth by the pandemic. So we’re in a world where buying groups are expanding. They demand deeper expertise. Organizations are shrinking in size, so those sellers need to take on more and they need to expand and have a wider range of folks supporting them and working with them to deliver more value as part of the engagement process. So this example here, SAP, when I spoke with Pat for my research process, Pat, let me know that SAP actually a piece of variable compensation for every employee at the company around the top line and margin girls’ numbers all the time, which I thought was really interesting, even if that employee doesn’t directly control, some of those commercial outcomes or carry a quota.
The other thing that SAP does that I think is really interesting is that they launch opportunistic spiffs for non quota-carrying people at unique moments in time to put a lens on something that might be very, very important for their overall business or to help simply drive or increase pipeline. So look for a world as we think about going forward where more employees are involved in creating and closing business. So that’s sort of the context setting part of this discussion. Since we’re really focused on planning here, I want to share some research with you all at some thinking that I’ve been doing around how this will affect your business planning as you go forward, not just in 2021, but also beyond.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was struck, I think this was mentioned in an earnings call where the CEO of Microsoft said every organization will need the ability to remote everything at a moment’s notice. And it was a simple statement, but I thought it was really important because what he’s talking about is business agility. And we now have the tools and technologies and solutions that allow us to quickly pivot to do business planning more than once a year. If you have a rich sales performance management solution, you can actually do automated business planning on an ongoing basis as your dynamics in the market environment changes. What we’ve seen at Forrester is the organizations that had and have committed to digital transformation, both from a company marketing and sales perspective, were in a pretty good position. When things came down and the world was turned upside down at the beginning of 2020, those that hadn’t made the right technology bets, or didn’t have the core technology vendors and partners to rely on were really scampering. And they’re still scampering right now.
And they’re trying to accelerate and to figure out how to catch up in a world where we think, much will be done remote. And, or in a hybrid type of capacity in that situation, tools and technologies are 100% necessary. So as we conducted the survey research, what I wanted to understand was, you know, sort of what kind of changes did businesses anticipate in making as they went into their planning for 2021? And so what I asked was how highly will each of these factors impact your go-to-market strategy? And what you can see here is that it’s almost like an amalgamation of these rapidly evolving buyer preferences that I’ve been talking about for years. Along with different conditions brought forth by COVID.
So first and foremost is, you know, a very uncertain economic environment. So I think there will be a world where organizations are looking at conservative ways of managing their business. We’ve seen businesses focus more in some respects and growth than the net new customers businesses to actually resegment and target. There’s a look at their targeting and segmentation strategy to ensure that they’re going after companies that are in a position to purchase their products and services. But you can also see here, the changing buyer needs, changing buyer preferences is a driving force, the need for hyper-personalized solutions. We’re digitally oriented buyers and the shift to digital based on what’s happening with COVID. So again, you know, I think many of these things were in progress, but as business leaders think about their 2020 planning, these are the top factors that they’re going to be looking at as they build out those plans and prioritize their purchases from a technology perspective.
So I’ve been looking a lot at this concept of working from home and I’ve been following this since January, as you see a range of different types of announcements, which led me up to this point, to this prediction that 80% of B2B sales will be conducted remotely. I won’t go through all the details on the right, but I’m just going to highlight a few things. You know, even before the pandemic, we saw that companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and others were working towards carbon negativity and carbon neutrality. A ways out, no doubt. But this was in the mix just a couple of weeks ago.
The CEO of Southwest airlines mentioned that he thought it would take up to a decade before business travel reached the levels of 2019. And then when we went out and actually surveyed a collection of global white collar workers, we found out that 53% of workers who are currently remote hope that they’re actually going to be able to continue to work remote even after the crisis is over. What we’re finding is that there’s some wonderful efficiencies that can be gathered. We can still have customer intimacy with the right approaches and methods and tools. And we can have probably a better life in terms of health and wellness, if we’re not on the road. So we believe in the future, we’re going to see some sort of a hybrid between digital and remote, but much more heavily indexed on the digital and remote from a B2B selling perspective.
In my opinion, taking it a little bit more deeply, one of the other things you’ll have to think about as you plan is what to do with your sales tech and how to take a look at that stack. Oftentimes companies will go out and acquire some of these wonderful technologies and tools and give them to their quota carrying reps, or maybe just the reps that work in a certain area of the business. But as you start to see more and more folks involved in revenue generation, we think it’s going to be necessary to extend technology and tools across to a wider range of tools. What was really interesting about this is that of the B2B sales leaders that mentioned they have reduced the size of their selling organization, 10% of those sales leaders have actually reinvested some of that cost savings into new technologies. When I was conducting a wave for the sales engagement category this summer, I actually found out from customers that many of them over a third of the customers that I surveyed for that wave research said they plan to extend licenses to more members of the revenue team. So I think we’re going to start to see organizations think about how to extend licenses deeper into the overall revenue generation team.
So let’s double click a little bit into some of the sales tech priorities that I see coming down the path. We found that 57% of B2B sales leaders said they plan to make deeper investments in automation and AI in their next fiscal year. And you can see here, some of the things that are top of mind, I think this one is really important, the automatic capture of buyer and seller, human behavioral activity, that sellers for the longest time have been having to do data entry into the CRM. If you’re one of those legacy organizations and you’re probably not if you’re at this event, but if you are and your sellers don’t use an updated CRM, don’t worry about it. You’ve lost that battle. Move on. There are plenty of solutions out there that can now extract and automatically upload that data from your buyer seller connections. The other thing that we’re seeing is that as AI machine learning starts to mature, you have a larger data set recommendations for sellers on what their best next action could be is top of mind for business leaders as well. Now that could be the right type of content to share based on the persona you’re speaking with, based on where you are in the sales cycle, based on the industry or size of the organization, or what have you.
And then, looking at the channels for interaction. So I think this becomes increasingly important when we don’t have the in-person meeting to default to, it’s important to understand where you’re going to get the best response from your customer prospect. Are you more likely to get a response from them through direct or personal message through texts? Maybe if you’re international, in Asia, or email is the best form of connection. So we’re going to aggregate more and more data. And the AI is going to be able to provide rich recommendations on what’s the way to get the best reaction interaction with your buyer and to deliver it the best fire experience.
And then of course, you know, looking at managers who oftentimes go underserved, right? What is the best next step that a manager can do in terms of their coaching? I spoke a little bit about some of these different trends. And as you start to think about your planning and what your business will look like in 2021 and beyond, I found out that business leaders were thinking about starting to organize their sellers differently, to create more buyer centricity in terms of how they’re setting up territories, and covering territories. And who interacts with what type of customers. And as we acquire more and more data, I think we’ll get even more and more informed how to make really meaningful territory and organizational assignments. If you think about how sales has been organized for years, it’s really been inside, outside or field SDR.
We don’t really care about those digital and analog boundaries anymore. And I can tell you, your buyer definitely doesn’t care. They don’t care how you’re organized, what you call your person, what your seller is, they just want to have a great experience. They want the seller to understand them. They want the members of the revenue team to remember the conversation that they’ve had with three people prior to the conversation that they’re having now. And they want to engage fluidly across a range of routes. So I thought this was interesting that 20% of the B2B sales leaders said they fundamentally changed their org structures as a result of COVID and changing by our experiences, 40% wanted to dip their toes in and be a little bit more thoughtful and careful.
And they said they’d be making minor modifications to adapt for selling more remotely. So I think this is a license for you when you work with your heads of sales and HR. And other stakeholders and constituents to think about some ways that you could create some small, tightly bound experience experiments, where you’re organizing sellers in different ways that could deliver a much more meaningful buyer experience. And so, this is just a little bit more of a deeper dive or double click into the details of that research. You can see the 40%, 20% that already spoke of 70% say they plan to keep their organizational structures exactly the same. 13% were going to fundamentally change our approach based on buyer preferences, changing and so on. This concept that I talked about with regard to SAP and compensating a wider range of employees, I think we’ll see this in the future. Maybe not right away next year, but what we see is that 26% of business leaders are looking at ways to compensate more employees who may not necessarily be quota carriers, and to compensate for more collaborative selling efforts to create a better tire orchestration. So you can see that some of the leaders out there are already thinking about doing this and plan to do it in their 2021, strategies. And then this just goes into a little bit more detail. I’ll let you absorb the data.
And now let’s talk about talent. Oftentimes I’ve been sharing this particular graphic. I tend to like it, but I update it continuously. And so on this example here, I was really thinking about what are the types of skills and attributes of a seller or quite frankly, anyone who engages with customers and prospects, needs to have to do it successfully in a COVID world? And, what we’re seeing now is that sellers who can get really adept at engaging in synchronous and asynchronous video are going to be really successful. So there’s certain ways to be more meaningful in a synchronous video, like we’re in today, you need to have the right light, you need to have audio. You need to figure out how to connect with an audience who isn’t right with you in asynchronous video. What we’re seeing is that buyers absorb visual images, 60,000 times faster than written texts. And 65% of us are visual based learners. So the sellers like the one I showed you earlier on in the discussion who have cracked the code on how to deliver a great video are getting tremendous response.
So buyers rated video as pretty low on their list of top content they wanted from buyers. We think that it’s going to be one of the most important from sellers rather we think it’s going to be one of the most important types of content that buyers will be utilizing in 2021. So it’s important to think about, you know, do you need to re-skill or up-skill your sellers, and it’s not extraordinarily different, but there are some nuances that they need to learn. Do you have a system in place to retrain and upskill your seller so they can be successful? The days of the lone wolf seller are beyond us. Sellers need to embrace internal and external collaboration. They need to engage in active listening. And I got this from the LinkedIn State of 2020 Sales survey. So I don’t want to take credit for it, but this was the number one attribute that buyers rated as being important to them.
So how do you demonstrate that you’re doing active listening when you’re not in the same room, it’s challenging. And then tapping into positive emotion. I think this is going to be increasingly important as we start to look at the neuroscience of connecting and having really deep, empathetic connections, particularly when we’re not together and sellers who have the psychological resiliency to walk away from a setback and move forward and paint a positive collaborative vision of what the future will look like for their buyer and their organization. What’s kind of interesting to me is that when I asked these business leaders what are the top attributes you look for in a B2B seller? I was a little bit surprised and not surprised all at the same time. So strong, active listening skills. Okay, great.
We all read the LinkedIn survey. We got the memo and everyone’s raised that up to the top, which I think is great. But I typically think of problem solving and communication skills as being sort of traditionally what you would look for in a seller or someone who has the ability to overcome objections, solve complex problems, and be a strong communicator. And I’m not saying those skills aren’t important. But some of the things that I’ve been talking about seem very low down on this list, psychological resilience, emotional agility, leading with empathy. How often have we been talking about this in this challenging environment? Someone who is data savvy I think that is increasingly going to be important, pretty low on this list. So I think this is an opportunity for everyone here today to provide some education and learning back at your own organizations, as you think about shaping and creating sales profiles, hiring profiles, performance, types of plans and training and methodology that you’re going to bring in to help your sellers be effective.
I’m not sure what B2B sales leaders are thinking about today as the most important attributes are truly the ones that you will need going further. Well, every analyst has an ongoing pet project when they deliver a keynote. So I’m going to share this with you and I know Shawnna knows about this because she contributed to my survey research, but I’ve been asked by the Journal of Selling, which is an academic journal, to write an article on the state of women in sales, and I’m really excited about the research. I’m finished with the survey and I’m writing the article now.
So if anyone wants to contribute to the survey, please let me know. I would love to have you weigh in, and stay tuned for when the article comes up, but what I’ve been really noticing, and I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity and inclusion. I’m a charter member of Forrester’s diversity inclusion council, at my own organization. So I’m starting to think about what is the impact of diversity inclusion on your sales team. And what we find from the initial research that we do is that, even though business leaders say they are hiring with diversity inclusion in mind, and 54% of them actually say they think they’re going to be judged by prospects on their commitment and what their sales organization looks like. We still have pretty homogeneous sales organizations out there right now. Women make up just a third of B2B sales. And so there’s a pretty significant under-representation, from a gender perspective, as well as people of color in the sales industry. And I’ll be writing more and more about this, but what was interesting when I found this out is that we see that diversity inclusion is top of mind, but, when you think about how sales leaders are still sourcing talent, it’s very much the same way that they have done it for the last 20 years. And so if we’re going to fundamentally make a selling organization look and act, like our clients and prospects, we’re going to have to start to think about different pools of acquiring sales talent.
And so I think you all here in the audience are in a position to impact some of those decisions at your organization by thinking about internal referrals and competitors, you’re probably not going to get the kind of talent that you’re going to need to be successful in this environment and beyond so food for thought, and probably a time for a longer and deeper conversation after the research gets published. So with that, I want to leave you all with some pragmatic and actionable advice that can take back to your companies before we wrap up here today, first and foremost, this is a watershed moment. It’s a moment for transformation and innovation, embrace it. And I think that B2B sales, marketing and buying is going to be changed forever. So go for it and try to take this opportunity to drive and instill more urgency in your organization. For some of us, the change that we’ve talked about here today. Engage in agile business planning. I think, you know, the days where we could all huddle, and I certainly did this as a head of sales myself, huddle for three months in the conference room while everyone was closing business for the end of the year and creating this plan is behind us.
We’re going to need to be very agile in terms of how we do our business planning, how we plan our events, how we adapt to changes in the global environment that we don’t have any control over. And the companies that have the ability and the agility to do that, I think will be very successful as we move forward. Use this also as an opportunity to take that buyer centric approach to organizing and go-to-market. We’ve been talking together for many years and we’ve been talking about buyer centricity, and I think some of the challenges brought forth by the pandemic can put you in a driver’s seat to really start to make some of these changes and do some experiments and pilots with your own organization. I think it’s going to be crucial as we work in a fundamentally digital and remote world in all likelihood for another 12 months, if not longer, that you think about extending your tools and your licenses across a wider range of employees.
I think about doing some experiments around spiffs and activating some of your sales engineers or your customer success folks on surfacing and originating deals. I think if you do it, you’re going to be really pleasantly surprised to see that you can get a lot of lift from people in your organization that don’t actually carry a quota. And finally, I think it’s an opportunity to start to be more creative with your talent acquisition, both in terms of the tools that you use to help you eliminate bias at scale, as well as new ways of thinking about your profiles, and your career progression with your internal folks. The types of skills and attributes that sellers are gonna need today are very, very different from what they needed even just a year ago. So things are moving quickly. Use this time and opportunity to make some changes that I think will bring forth great customer intimacy, even as we are physically and socially remote from each other.
So thank you very much for listening to my talk today. I hope you’ll continue the conversation with me on LinkedIn or Twitter, and I’m happy to take some Q and A for the next few moments.



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