And How Do You Use Them to make a Sale?

You often hear the phrase, “find and press their Hot Buttons”, and I certainly use it when I help people write tenders, or in my TenderWins workshops.

Do a little research online and you will find it being used in all sorts of situations.  The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines them as “an emotional and usually controversial issue or concern that triggers immediate intense reaction”.  Now that could be applied anywhere; from the office, to the home, politics, whatever.

‘To make a sale’ is the only situation I’m interested in, and I’d like to narrow than down even further in a minute.

What exactly are hot buttons?

Here’s a definition:

“A problem, need, urgent desire or source of pain that stirs enough emotion in the prospect to motivate the prospect to want to take immediate action to solve the issue.”

In this case, the action you are seeking is for them to say “Yes”, to make a “buy” decision.

The key words to remember are emotion and intense.  They drive the need to take action to solve the problem, met the need, urgent desire or remove the source of pain.

Why are Hot Buttons important in a sales situation?

You’re pitching for a sale.  It may be face-to-face, it may be a proposal a prospect has asked you to submit.  Or you may be in a more formal situation, writing a tender for a government body.  No doubt you’ve also been schooled in not just demonstrating the features of your offering, but in also explaining the benefits those features bring.

Now you certainly have to do that.  People don’t want the product per se, they want what the product will do for them.

But there’s an issue here - A benefit does not always create an emotional reaction that leads to a buying decision.  Emotion is certainly important.  As has been said many times, people buy for emotional reasons, and rationalise their decision with the facts (the features). 

However, are those emotional benefits you put to the prospect the ones that are really important to them?  You have to dig deep to find, and understand, the real pain the prospect is feeling, or fearing.  You have to find their “hot buttons”.

So how do you find these hot buttons?

Emotional triggers are not always easy to find.  To find the prospect’s emotional triggers, you need to find their problems.  Some digging is required to find the real need or source of pain. 

Having a prospect express an interest in your offering is one thing, but interest in itself will not lead to “immediate action”

How you find them will depend on the situation you are in, whether you are selling face-to-face, or responding to a Request for Quotation (RFQ) or a Request for Tender (RFT).

You need to have a systematic method of asking questions to uncover the prospect’s problems. Find areas the prospect is losing, hurting or suffering in some way due to the lack of your product or service.  Exemplify those areas of problems and pain, and then present your solution and you will hit the hot buttons on the head.

The best way to find out what your customers hot buttons are is to ask them. 

In a face-to-face situation let the prospect do the talking.  It is easy to find your prospects’ hot buttons once you have gained their interest and allowed them to open up.  If you do all the talking they will mentally close down.

As copywriting pioneer Claude Hopkins says, “any…attempt to sell, if apparent, creates sales resistance.”  

There’s an old sales saying that you should listen twice as long as you talk – "We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less."  Some people are slow learners.  

Of course you need to listen as well as hear.  Slow down, allow the client to talk, and they’ll reveal their dominant desire – their hot buttons.

If you are in a more formal RFQ or RFT situation more is required.  You need to capture as much as possible about the buyer’s driving force for the RFT.

If you can get to talk to the buyer, please do so.  You will learn a lot, maybe something your competition does not pick up (like the hot buttons) and you will more than just a company name when they are assessing the responses they receive.  I’ve been amazed over the years the number of times I’ve been the only person who has gone to see the person putting out the RFT in their office.

If you can’t get to see them, research is required.   Go to their website and look for connections between the purchase being sought in the RFT and what they are saying about themselves.  Bring out the connections in your response.  I’ve won tenders doing just that. recommends a strategy session with people in your business who have had meaningful contact with the buyer. They could be technical, sales, accounts people, or whatever.

  • List any concerns your team has been able to ascertain the buyer might have about the purchase being sought, what might delay or cause it to fail, or potential problems the buyer sees.  Remember, you are looking at this from the buyer’s perspective.
  • Prioritise those concerns from the highest to the lowest.  The hot buttons will be those concerns that have the highest priority.
  • Now you have a good idea what the customer is most concerned with and what you need to make sure you address. 
  • Then brainstorm what you can offer the customer to resolve each and every one of his concerns.

Unearth the prospect’s problems and pain and you will discover their hot buttons. Then present how your product or service will solve those problems, and you will be pushing those hot buttons.

If the RFT is from a government agency, remember you are dealing with bureaucrats – and you want to have their attention.  They are risk averse, but also want to be seen to get the best possible result.  Understand that the particularly for bureaucrats, fear of loss is a far more intense emotion than the desire for gain.

Note that a prospect’s Hot Buttons can vary, depending on their requirement and the situation they are in.  What is a burning issue this month may not be next month.

How to Push the Hot Buttons

As they say, “Sell the sizzle, not the sausage”

Recognition of the hot button/s and your solution must be placed in the lead of your response.  It cannot be lingering on page three or page 33.  It must be up front, so the buyer can have his a-ha! moment before he mentally dismisses your proposal.  It is the effect it has on the intellect and the heart of the buyer that you need. 

Please do not open your response talking about how wonderful your business/product is.  Talk about them, their problem that they are trying to solve, and what is critical to them (hot button).  Let them know you understand, and that you have a solution.  Only then do you go on to describe your solution, the hot button pushing results it provides.

Could your Sales Response be Improved?

There’s nothing like an outside view, a second opinion of your response to a Request for Quotation or Request for Tender.  Have you identified their Hot Buttons, and responded to them effectively?

Very often when we read something we’ve written, we read what we expect to see.  And miss the mistakes, or lack of logic, or lack of persuasiveness.  

I have an upcoming online course, TenderWins, a 4-week intensive course designed to help you win more tenders, without the stress and time issues that currently hold you back!

If you would like to discuss how this might help you, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  There’s no cost for a consultation.  It is my gift to you.
Or buy "Small Change, Big Result", my manual on how to increase your success rate with proposals and quotations; make a few small changes, and reap the rewards.

© Copyright 2018 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective 

What Might be More Important?

Many years ago, I was General Manager of a government agency tasked with attracting industrial investment to our state/territory.  Before then I had worked my way up the management tree in a variety of manufacturing industries.  My Chairman had been in the Public Service since he was 17, but he was backed by a Board of experienced business people, including a very senior person with significant international sales experience whom I recruited.

It was the latter who placed little value on the number of leads the Chairman would trumpet.  To him, the key measurement was not leads, but conversions.  My Chairman squirmed under this repeated question – “How many have you converted?

The reality was that he had not the sales experience to understand the key measure was results, not prospective results,

My friend Rashid Kotwal of Revealed Resources has some interesting thoughts about this very topic.  As always, Rashid gets to the heart of the problem.  Here’s his take on “leads” versus “conversions”.

Why leads alone aren’t the answer

I’m getting dozens of emails promoting the next best lead generation flavour of the month.  This week it’s LinkedIn.  Last week it was Facebook.  Who knows what it’ll be next week.  (And I have the same flood – AG)

Sure, every business needs leads.  But nothing happens until you sell something.  i.e. Convert qualified leads into clients.

So if the majority of people you talk to don’t become clients, focusing on generating more leads is simply a waste of time (and advertising dollars).
Instead, first concentrate on improving your conversion rate.  So more prospects become clients.  Only then bring in more leads.

So how do you go about it?

Sell the result not the process!

I know what you do is complex.  It took years to master.  And you love to solve problems when in front of a potential clients.

If that’s you, stop it.  NOW!

Your prospect is sitting in front of you because they have a problem.  They’re in some kind of hell.  They want a solution, but have no idea how to achieve it. They’re looking at a mountain confronting them, feeling overwhelmed.

Your job is to take them by the hand over the mountain, to their promised land.

But first, you really have to have your prospect articulate their own private hell.

Why?  Because unless the pain is great enough they won’t want to expend the time and money on a solution.

Then have them describe what they really want instead.  Their "why".  Delve deep.  Find out the underlying emotional reasons.  How they’d feel then.

Now comes the critical part.

Have them tell you the cost of not changing.  Not solving the problem.  Ask them to give you at least 10 things that would happen if they kept the status quo.

Then reverse it.  Take all 10 (or as many as they can come up with) and ask how they’d feel if these issues were fixed.

Have them bask in the positive emotions.

This is selling the result.

Only now ask if they’d like to work with you to achieve this.

If yes, now you can lay out your program and costs.  Answer any questions and get commitment.

Thanks Rashid – that is very useful.

Here are some Takeaways

  • Nothing happens until you sell something
  • Convert qualified leads into clients – note the word “qualified”.  Very important in saving you from wasting your time.
  • Improve your conversion rate, before you increase the number of leads.
  • What you are selling is the result, not how you achieve it.
  • But first you have to find out “why” they really want/need that result.

And I like Rashid’s steps for selling the result.

Could your Sales Process be Improved?

There’s nothing like an outside view, a second opinion.  Very often when we read something we’ve written, we read what we expect to see.  And miss the mistakes, or lack of logic, or lack of persuasiveness.  

If you would like to discuss how you could improve your sales process, contact me.  There’s no cost for a consultation.  It is my gift to you.
Or buy "Small Change, Big Result", my manual on how to increase your success rate with proposals and quotations; make a few small changes, and reap the rewards.

© Copyright 2018 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective 

Four More Actions you can Take

I’ve been looking at whether using “fear” has a role in your sales message?  If it does, there are two approaches:

The first is creating a “fear of missing out”; something is so good, others are doing it, and unless you catch up, you’ll miss out.

The second isfear of a villain”.  In this case, the bad guy is seen as a real threat, nasty and harmful to your prospects future.  Getting that clear in your prospect’s mind is up to you in your sales message.  Regardless of what you sell (product, service, fundraising, etc., doesn't matter) or whom you sell to, your product is the hero, riding in on his noble steed and slaying the bad guy.

You then need to demonstrate, and provide proof, that your product will be an effective solution to your prospect’s problem.

So following on from the last blog, let’s take apart how your sales message might convey either of these “fears”.

Let’s See where you can convey “fear”!

Don’t you just hate it – you write your sales proposal, submit it, and wait for a response, and wait, and wait, only to get a NO.

It’s simple really; a Sales Proposal that doesn’t lead to action is ineffective.  And being ineffective is a waste of your time, effort, and money. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Avoid the simple mistakes that so many make.  Fear may be part of the solution, but you will also need more.

My last blog examined the first three of seven common mistakes.  Here are four more actions you can take to make your Sales Proposal more effective.  And there’s an offer at the end.

Remove the Risk

The prospect is uncertain, she has doubts in her mind.  It all sounds very good, but ……   How can she be sure?

There are two things you can do to remove the risk; provide “Social Proof”, and a Guarantee.

Social Proof

As master copywriter John Forde wrote “Used right (morally as well as strategically), it [social proof] is a powerful tool for selling.”

Social proof is more than just word-of-mouth over the backyard fence in today’s on-line world.  In fact, there are four types of social proof you can use to strengthen your marketing, and you can use them whether you are writing sales letters, emails content for your website or advertisements.

I’ve written about Social Proof in an earlier blog “How to Use Social Proof to Increase Sales”

(Comment - Use Social Proof to demonstrate either Fear 1 – using your product/service they assuredly won’t miss out, in fact they’ll be ahead of the pack!

Use Fear 2 and demonstrate/prove that if they don’t use your product or service, the villain will win.  Use social proof to demonstrate how your clients have used your product, and triumphed!)


Somewhere, either just before the offer, or just after, when the prospect is hesitating, “Will I or won’t I”, remove the doubt that your product or service might not deliver what it promises by offering a guarantee.  This backs up the earlier social proof.

It might be a money back if not satisfied, or if it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do guarantee.  The important thing is that, while your guarantee could possibly be called on, you are much more likely to get increased sales.

(Comment – applies to both Fear 1 and Fear 2 in removing the risk.)


You know your reaction when you get a badly written document – your thoughts are negative from the start.

(Comment – think really hard about this one.  Show through your presentation that you are ahead of the pack – Fear 1 – and your words, fonts, headers and images are confident, show leadership, and inspire confidence – see ‘Benefits’, and ‘Word Graphics’ below.   Leave people felling inspired.)

What will your proposal look like, visually that is?  Presentation is important.  And how will it read. 

A good presentation will make you look so much more professional, and the buyer feel more comfortable about dealing with you.  If the way your industry does things is a simple “price, quality, delivery” quotation here is your chance to make yourself different, and stand out. 

Some guidelines:

  • Headlines – it needs to be distinctive.  Size, colour, bolding.  It’s the contrast.  A headline must make the reader want to find out more, and not reveal so much they might not feel they need to read the proposal.  They break up the page and make your proposal easier to read.
  • Sub-heads – ditto but smaller.  The same comment as above applies.  Customers often scan a document before they read it.  The sub-heads will guide them and let them know what is coming.  They can be a different font from the headlines or paragraphs which assists the scan.  And they make it easier to find specific information.
  • Sentences - make your sentences short.  The easiest sentence to take in is only eight words long.  A sensible average is 14 words.  Any sentence of more than 32 words is hard to follow.
  • Paragraphs – keeping them short and punchy makes them easier to read.  No more than 2-3 sentences.  A long paragraph is daunting.  It should be kept to one subject.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • Begin sentences with benefits (when possible):

o    Instead of...Moving your money now will help you avoid major losses.

o    Try...You can avoid major losses IF you move your money now!

  • Dot points – make it easier to scan and grasp the points you are making, just as I have done here.
  • Word graphics – depending on what you are quoting, painting a word picture can help.  (Can you see yourself in that gleaming new, spotlessly clean stainless steel kitchen?) or (imagine if you had all the information you needed for that benches quote). 
  • Picture graphics – a diagram or photograph of what you are delivering will help clarify other questions they might have and help reduce the risk and increase the like factor.  “Before and after” photographs emphasise the benefits you are delivering.

o    Don’t forget the Captions – tell them what the photo is.  More risk reduction.

  • Spelling and grammar errors – they distract, and cause the reader to stop, and consider the correction.  Once they stop they lose the flow.

Just remember - as Dr. Johnson remarked over 200 years ago - "That which is written to please the writer rarely pleases the reader." You're not writing for yourself but for the prospect.  Make it easy for them!

Let it rest for a day and re-read it.  Does it still make sense?

Conclude with a Specific Call to Action

You need to explicitly tell them to do it, and why.   Don’t finish with a general “If you have any questions ….”  I used to do that.  It’s horrible.

You may tell you will contact them; date and time.  Or create urgency by limiting the time of the offer.  Be specific.

Use a P.S.

PSs are very powerful.  They can be used to summarise the benefits of your proposal, reinforce the proof, or the urgency or scarcity. 

Here are several reasons you need to add a P.S. in virtually everything you do, print, online, and email:

  • The P.S. is meant for those who are attention-challenged, and those who prefer to scan rather than read.
  • Many people often read the headline and then jump right to the P.S.  They concentrate on the beginning and the end, but hardly anyone ever jumps to the middle.
  • The P.S. can serve as a platform for the most important benefit. It’s just another way to reaffirm and drive home what is the most attractive aspect of your product or service.
  • For added urgency, the P.S. can be used to state a specific deadline or expiration date and increase the likelihood of a response.   “Act Now!”

(Comment - The PS is a great spot to reinforce your “Overcoming Fear” message.)

Could your Sales Message be Improved?

There’s nothing like an outside view, a second opinion.  Very often when we read something we’ve written, we read what we expect to see.  And miss the mistakes, or lack of logic, or lack of persuasiveness.  

If you would like to discuss how you could improve your sales letters of proposals, contact me before the end of February.  There’s no cost for a consultation.  It is my gift to you.

Or buy "Small Change, Big Result", my manual on how to increase your success rate with proposals and quotations; make a few small changes, and reap the rewards.

© Copyright 2016 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective 

And is it Persuasive?

It was the struggle a client was having writing effective sales emails that lead me to resurrect a blog from some time ago.  The issue was to what extent “fear” should be used to drive sales.

There are two versions of this conflict:

  • Using a Subject line of “Who Else Wants … ?”  With this technique, you're making the implication that everyone else is doing it. And also playing on the fear of being left out. The "it" is the solution your client's product or service offers.  Fear of loss is a powerful trigger.
  • Having a “villain” in your message.  It's the villain who determines how much you like the good guys. And, it's the villain who is #1 in any story. And guess what? It's the exact same in your emails, too.

Regardless of what you sell (product, service, fundraising, etc., doesn't matter) or whom you sell to, your product is the hero, riding in on his noble steed and slaying the bad guy.

But, if the bad guy is not seen as a truly credible threat, something evil and malicious, and who will destroy the world (or, rather, the prospect's world), then your product will not look nearly as effective as it really is.

What do your clients think of denigrating the competition?  That’s the risk!  Do they find it off-putting?  Some do, but it has been said "C-level" copywriters fall back on the 'old reliables' of fear and greed. And while those two emotions can power some successful promotions, you'll miss huge opportunities to write successful copy if they're the only emotions in your toolbox.

As the great copywriter Clayton Makepeace says, your sales message should activate a relevant and actionable DOMINANT EMOTION in the prospect. Because human beings almost never make purchases for logical reasons, but as their emotions dictate, the copy should activate a fear, frustration and/or desire that the prospect already has, then offer him a way to fulfil or assuage that emotion.”

I’ll come right out and say the principles expounded in this blog post are based on the first version.  They are useful not just for emails, but also sales letters, and indeed quotations, proposals and tenders. 

But would the second be more effective?  After all, effectiveness is what counts when you are after sales!

I’ve added some additional comments.

So here we go.

Do you know what is NOT effective in a Sales Proposal or Sales Letter?  You should, because these mistakes are far from rare.   They occur time and time again.  And they are so off-putting.

The first mistake occurs right at the beginning of the pitch.  It’s where the business starts talking about themselves, how good they are, how they are unique, unmatchable in every respect, the “ant’s pants” in fact.

I call these ME-ME proposals.

So let’s look at what you can do to change all that, and write a sales email or proposal that works.

Start with the Headline

If your headline doesn’t grab them, then they are not going to read on.  So it has to be meaningful to them.

The Hook - you need to grab your prospect’s attention.  Headlines are the advertisement for your promotion, so you need to create an impact.  The headline has to have a hook that leads the reader on.  You only get one chance to grab their attention before they file your message in the round file.

And then the Key - the key to understanding headlines is that what grabs attention is personal benefit, known as WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.  So you need to highlight a key benefit, preferably backed by a promise. 

An example:  Low Maintenance School Uniforms – That Last

So in this example the benefit is Low Maintenance School Uniforms and the promise is That Last. 

There are some classic headlines leads that are used over and over again ….. because they work.  Some have benefits and promise, others just benefit.  Swipe and deploy!

(Comment – should “fear” – either V1 or V2 -be used in the Headline?)

The First 50 Words

What comes next is also very important; the opening paragraph.  This is where the ME-ME shouldn’t come in, but so often does.

Your opening paragraph must be about your prospect, and their problem.  Show that you understand them, their problem, and the difficulties it causes them.  Empathise with them.  Remember, it’s about them, not you.   You can’t be persuasive if there is no empathy.

A typical way to do that is to highlight the gap between where your prospect is right now, and the benefit and promise of the headline. 

After all, if there wasn’t a gap they wouldn’t be interested.

Staying with school uniforms: “Are you sick and tired of always having to buy expensive school uniforms only to find they are high maintenance; they pick-up dirt marks so easily, those dirt marks are hard to remove, they always requiring ironing.  And they don’t last.  It doesn’t have to be that way.” 

The prospect is now being troubled by the problems they are facing.  You’ve brought the problems to front of mind.

(Comment – “fear” could agitate the problem, bring it to more of the forefront of the mind)

Now you are need to develop Interest 

Remember the task of the opening paragraph is to build on your headline to lead the prospect to read on. 

I like using the acronym PIPES:

P – Problem; we started with that.

I – Implications; what are the implications for them if they don’t solve their problem.  Use emotional concepts.  Remember, people buy on emotions, and rationalise their decision with the facts.  “Fear” in either version could have a real role here.

P – Potential; what can they achieve/do/enjoy when their problem is solved.  Again, emotions help.  Ask them to visualise their situation once the problem has gone – Imagine this …..

(Comment – without the villain on the scene, what could be achieved?)

E- Explanation;  This is where the facts come in.  Why there is a solution, and how it will work.  This is not yet your solution, but why the type of service/product you provide will solve their problem. 

(Comment – Version 1, what is needed to not be left behind, Version 2 – how to vanquish the villain!)

S – Solution;  Now you are going to lead the reader into all the benefits of your product or service, why your solution is the only logical choice.  You are telling them you have the solution to their problem, that your product will close the gap referred to above – guaranteed.

(Comment – why your product/service will overcome the problem in V1 or V2)

Introduce all the benefits of your product or service and why they offer the desired solution.  It is about the end results.

To have the greatest impact use bullet points to illustrate each benefit.  Bullet points are built for flyers and a lot of other promotional messages.  So often people skim through your copy.  Bullet points make skimming easy. 

You don’t have to use a lot of writing tricks like connectors and other means of transition; just load the bullets, one after another.

Don’t just list the features (what your product is or has) of your product or service.  Tell them what the feature will do for them.  That’s the benefit.  It tells them WIIFM.  “Our uniforms are all made from XYZ Wonder Fabric.  This means:”

But there is more to your persuasive sales email or proposal.  We haven’t finished yet. 

Next week I’ll look at four more steps.

Could your Sales Emails, Proposals or Tenders be Improved?

There’s nothing like an outside view, a second opinion.  Very often when we read something we’ve written, we read what we expect to see.  And miss the mistakes, or lack of logic, or lack of persuasiveness.   Are you fighting villains, or seeking to stay in front?

If you would like to discuss how you could improve your sales letters, proposals or tenders, contact me.  There’s no cost for a consultation.  It is my gift to you.

© Copyright 2018 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective 

Gross Margins versus Sales

It is easy lose sight of the difference between margins and sales.  Many businesses talk in terms of the sales they make.  But the figure you should really be interested in is the volume of Gross Profits your business delivers.

The Gross Profit Margin you make over the cost of providing a product or service (the Cost of Sales) is the money left to contribute to pay overheads (relatively fixed), and then when you have covered those, becomes your profits.  

I want to touch upon two examples where it is easy to get confused by the impact of the Sales you generate, versus Gross Margins they return.  I’ll talk about breakeven another time

These examples relate to:

•    Bad debts, and

•    Promotional campaigns.

Let’s take bad debts first. 

Of course, this does not apply to you if you get cash payments on delivery, or better still, payment before delivery.  However, a significant proportion of small businesses invoice their clients on delivery of the product of the service. 

Your Terms of Trade may vary anywhere between 7 days to 6o days.  I’m talking about when you require payment, not when you actually get paid.  Unfortunately, we often find that the bigger the client, the slower the payment. 

What happens when you have a bad debt?

Say your sale was $1,000 and your Gross Margin was 35% ($350).  The sale goes bad for whatever reason, and the client does not pay.  It is easy to assumethat you all you have to do is make another sale of $1,000 to recover your position. 

Easy to assume, but wrong!

To recover that $1,000, you have to make enough profit to get the sales value back, because a significant proportion of the new sale will be, as before, the Cost of Sales – the cost of providing goods or service. 

And that amount we can calculate by dividing the sales figure ($1,000) by the Gross Margin (35%).  And that gives the princely sum of $2,857, and that’s without the cost and effort of achieving the new sale.

It makes sense to set yourself up so that this situation does not arise.   Policies and procedures help, as does getting paid up front, or at least a reasonable down payment.  In these days of multiple credit cards, securing a credit card imprint can be useful.  In other words, get the client or someone else to cover the debt. 

You are not in the banking business.

And so to promotional campaigns. 

Much the same situation applies, except that it is harder to measure.

If you do decide to calculate return on a marketing campaign: when comparing cost to returns, "returns" should be your profit, not your gross sales. If you spend $1,000 on a marketing effort and generate $1,000 in sales, you are losing money; you are out the direct cost of product or services that you sold for $1,000.  And you have no contribution to other overheads.

You have only broken even on a marketing campaign that costs $1,000 when you have sold enough product or services to generate a $1,000 PROFIT.  How much sales that requires depends completely on your products, and your profit margin.

There is a further complication!

Your business will undoubtedly have a number of product/service lines.  I’m sure you know the sales each generates, but do you know their profitability?  In nearly thirty years of working with small businesses, the biggest problem I’ve found hindering their prosperity and growth is not knowing what is going on in their business, where the money was being made, or lost. 

What hinders, and what helps?

So often the profitability of one or two lines is masking the lack of profitability of others.

Here are a couple of articles you might find useful.


Are you inflicting failure on your business?

When clients approach me for coaching, clients with businesses that are underperforming despite the crippling hours and effort the owner is putting into them, they are sometimes held back by lack of knowledge of what is happening in their business. 

A lack of focus of potential improvements leads to a lack of control over their business, and eight times out of ten that lack of control comes down to a lack of knowledge of what is happening in the business, and what their peers are achieving.

For more than 29 years I’ve been helping small business owners plug the profit leaks in their business and restoring their cash flows by assisting them understand where and how they may change their business to be a leader in profitability, productivity, and competitive advantage. 

If you would like to discuss with me how you might do that, book a Strategy Consult here

© Copyright 2018 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective

Do Tenders or Quotations form an Important or perhaps a Major Part of Your Income?

If so, do you measure the number of tenders and quotations you submit, and the proportion that you win.  Both figures are important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of your future cash flow.

Changes in the number of tenders or quotes you have the opportunity to submit may indicate changes in your market place.  If they start to trend down – why, what is happening out there?  Have you earned some black-marks, or is the market turning down?

Do you target to win a certain percentage of tenders and quotes you submit – 10%, 20%, 33%, 50%?  What proportion do you actually win, and what is the trend?  If you are not winning “your share” is it because the competition is getting stronger, or are you doing something not quite right?

Whatever the reason, improving your tendering or quotation writing skills can significantly improve your business results.

There is money in tenders.  The NSW Government alone spends $12.7 billion annually procuring goods and services.  At the other end of the scale the NT Government is the major buyer in the Northern Territory, procuring over $800 million in goods and services each year.  NT Research found that whilst the tender process for goods and services under $50,000 represented just 2% of the total value of tenders awarded, they comprised 47% of the total volume of tenders.

Tender writing can seem an unenjoyable, difficult and resource-consuming task 

How do you respond to all the requirements?  How do you answer the criteria?  How do you layout and format the response?  How do you clearly show, on paper, why you are the only logical choice for the contract?  And how do you do all this on top of your other workload?

Just to avoid rejection in the first cut, a tender must be compliant and answer every single requirement.  To go on to win, it must also be competitive and persuasive - it must show, clearly and persuasively, your difference, why you rather than the competition should get the contract.  And the margin between winning and losing is very often only a few points.

Successful tendering therefore demands an unusual combination of:

  • Knowledge of your business, industry and services – you should have this
  • Sales & Marketing skills – smaller businesses tend to lack these
  • Rigorous analysis of the requirement – do you do this, or do you just jump in?
  • Attention to detail – many skip the details because they are ‘too hard’, or they just don’t see them.
  • Experience in the tendering/proposal process – Catch 22
  • Sales writing skills – again – smaller businesses tend to lack these, concentrating on their technical skills

Successful tender writing isn’t simply about answering the questions, providing a technical description and putting in a price.  Success comes from understanding the tendering process, careful planning and preparation, differentiating yourself from the competition, and putting in a professional sales document.  This may involve:

  • Writing or pulling together the tender or proposal
  • Developing company profiles and other supporting documentation
  • Establishing procedures, templates etc. to assist future tender preparation
  • Improving your tendering processes and materials, for future success
  • Bringing an outside or strategic view, identifying the key factors required to win, and strengthening the projection of your differentiation and competitive strengths in the bid
  • Developing a value proposition relating to the requirement
  • Developing processes to identify and pursue key tendering opportunities, including those not advertised.


You need to avoid a situation whereby your final proposal is bidder-centric.  In other words, you have placed your solution at the heart of the bid.  From the client’s perspective, these bids tend to come across as ME-ME-ME.

A more successful approach is to place the client ‘smack dab in the middle’ of your response.  Everything has to revolve around their needs, which, of course, is the way it should be.

Client-centric proposals make the client feel that the tender is written for them in person; not written down at them.

Successful proposals place the emphasis on the client’s needs rather than on your abilities, technology, or experience, regardless of their technical merit.

Novice proposal writers tend to hype their own products/services and relegate the client’s needs to second place.

You Can Win More!

Responding to tenders need not be a complex, stressful burden, nor costly and demanding.   

I’ve been running workshops and coaching businesses for many years on helping them improve their tender submissions.   There are a number of testimonials on my website supporting the success I have had (

I’m developing an online course (TenderWins) to help businesses improve their success in tendering to governments and reduce the stress and time in preparing government tenders.

You will understand how to prepare for, analyse and persuasively respond to tender requirements.  Winning more tenders will take the stress out of your life.

If your wish is to have the skills and systems to consistently write persuasive and successful government tenders without stress and late nights that win a high proportion of the tenders you submit This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

© Copyright 2018 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective

Business Failure is Often Self-Inflicted

It is better to stop something bad from happening than it is to deal with it after it has happened.  And so it is with business failure.

If you know there are problems coming up in your business, you can do something about them.  That is a much simpler and cleaner solution than trying to tidy up the mess of a failed business.

I know – a long time ago I had to step in and try and save the family business.  It was very disheartening to hear the Bank Manager say, “You’re doing everything right, but you are two years to late!”  118 years of trading down the gurgler, and a mess it was.  Partly it was due to a business model whose time had passed, but it also was a lack of the right information.

You need to see the threats coming to your business to take evasive action.  That means illuminating the possible problems and creating insight into your business with good financial, productivity, efficiency and risk information.

Without good records that can’t be done, but there is one more imperative.  Unused information is of no benefit.  It must be analysed to determine what is happening in the business, what are the trends, what are the warning signs, are you looking for the danger signals.  To see the threats, and the opportunities you must analyse the information.  Business failure is often self-inflicted.

Having analysed the information. it needs to be documented.  Reports must be written.  It is only in actually writing the reports are owners and management likely to consider the implications of their information.

You know that yourself.  Simply looking at a set of accounts, customer conversion rates and all your other KPIs does not make allow proper consideration.  It gets put aside while you get on with the next thing.  Having to write up the reports provides that consideration.
That is why I require my clients to develop a reporting template and write their report regularly.  We meet to discuss their findings when I’m mentoring or coaching them.

So many "business" owners simply have a very low paying job because they don’t take this basic step.  Many initially regard reporting as a pain in the posterior, but as they grow in their business and develop their understanding of their role as a manager and entrepreneur, and not just the Supreme Technician in their business, they embrace the concept.

Many studies on why small businesses fail attribute failure to things such as an inability to manage costs, inefficient ineffective and inexperienced business management, poorly designed business models or no business plan, insufficient capital, poor or insufficient marketing, failure to seek professional advice.  And these are certainly factors.

In one study, 70% trusted their "gut instinct" over any professional advice.  It is all very well to trust your gut instinct in your area of technical expertise, but less sound in an area in which you don’t have experience.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission said in 2011 that too much failure is self-inflicted.

In fact, “poor economic conditions” was not at the top of 13 possible causes of business failure across five industries on which ASIC reported.  “Poor financial control including lack of records” and “poor strategic management of business” came much higher as causes of business failure in the construction, services, retail, accommodation and food, and manufacturing industries.

This reference to ‘poor financial control’ is important.  Despite the fact that I found only one other reference nominating insufficient time managing the books as an important factor, lack of visibility is a crucial factor.  But it is not just financial information that needs reporting on.

It is all the other factors whose outcomes are reflected in the financial information; productivity, efficiency, markets, risk.

Tony Featherstone, in reporting on the above ASIC study, said “The takeout from this analysis is simple: if you want to avoid business failure, focus first on strategy.  Implement strong financial controls and record keeping and keep a close watch on cash.  That sounds like obvious advice, yet too many small business owners I know do not have detailed strategies.  They often have poor records and weak cash flow controls.” 

I find it passingly strange that, in discussions of why business fail while all the usual reasons are paraded; lack of a business plan, lack of finance, lack of management skills, lack of a market, or marketing, poor business models and so on, little weight seems to be given to measuring what was pivotal in their business.  And those who don't measure, also don't analyse and report. 

Making good decisions requires good information, then analysing and using that information.  Making decisions on gut feeling and instincts is all very well, but you are far less likely to make the right decisions.  Facts require a good information system providing accurate and timely information.

People are likely to make poor decisions without accurate and timely information that has been analysed and reported.  And too many poor decisions will lead to business failure.  

Experience has taught me that a business owner or manager must have accurate information upon which to make decisions.  That means having the right KPIs for your business, and they must be analysed and handled correctly for any small business to not just survive but be profitable and provide you with the freedom you deserve.

Jonathan Byrnes, in “Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink” suggests:

  • Nearly 40 percent of every company is unprofitable… by any measure.
  • 20 to 30 percent of every company is so profitable that it provides all the reported earnings — and subsidizes the losses — of the entire business.
  • Most current business metrics and control systems (budgets, etc.) do not even show the problem, or the opportunity for improvement.
  • Most of the unprofitable and marginal business can be turned around using the three key elements of profitability management: profit mapping, profit levers, and a profitability management process.

This can only happen if these businesses are not measuring the right things, and reporting on them.

Have a business.   Don’t self-inflict failure and dig your own grave. 

Are you inflicting failure on your business?

When clients approach me for coaching, clients with businesses that are underperforming despite the crippling hours and effort the owner is putting into them, they are sometimes held back by lack of knowledge of what is happening in their business.  A lack of focus of potential improvements leads to a lack of control over their business, and eight times out of ten that lack of control comes down to a lack of knowledge of what is happening in the business, and what their peers are achieving.

For more than 29 years I’ve been helping small business owners plug the profit leaks in their business and restoring their cash flows by assisting them understand where and how they may change their business to be a leader in profitability, productivity, and competitive advantage.  I assist you analyse:
•    The strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats of your business
•    Determine where you want to be – clear, achievable goals, and
•    How you are going to get there – strategies to achieve your goals

This is sometimes known as the NOW – WHERE – HOW model.

If you would like to discuss with me how you might do that, book a Strategy Consult here. 

© Copyright 2013 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective

Time is not a Tender Trap

Some years ago, I met a bloke who was having problems with his business.  He was clearly stressed, but after some discussion he said to me, with more than a hint of exasperation, “I’m too busy to improve!”

Just think about that; he’s got problems, problems that are holding him back, problems which if he could remove would lead to success.  But he couldn’t convince himself to do something about them.  He was like a hamster on a wheel; running fast, going nowhere!

Problems are a time trap.  They eat up your available time, time you could use to do more profitable things for your business.  And they cause stress; you end up spending more and more time at work, and less time with family, and doing the things you enjoy.

Is there a way out of this maze?  Recently I came across an article by Hunter Leonard of Blue Frog MarketingTime is a Tender Trap”.  In it, Hunter offers some simple, but very effective tips for you to avoid falling into a “Time Trap”.

Take it away, Hunter!

In this article, I’m going to share with you some very important tips on the use of time as a business owner.

In our experience working with business owners ‘time management’ is often the biggest issue they run into. But it isn’t necessarily about ‘time management’; it’s about ‘time investment’.

I’m exactly like you and can share that, I’ve had times when time was my worst enemy and times when it’s been my best friend. But if you feel trapped by a lack of time; it’s not fun.

So here are 5 ways I make the best use of my time in running my business:

1. Learn to say no.

Probably one of the most important things you can do is to learn to say no to the thieves of time. In my business, marketing advisory, I get a lot of people reaching out who want to ‘have a coffee’ with me to ‘get some advice’ on their marketing.

I have found they are rarely high-value prospects, and unwilling to then move from a chat to a paid engagement on their marketing strategy. I also get a lot of radio and TV media salespeople who want to ‘drop in’ with their latest ratings and ideas. I found these a waste of my productive time, so I say no to most meetings of this sort. And I engaged a media buyer to be the go-between with all other media.

What meetings, travel, coffee catch ups, or other things are demanding your time but not adding value? Say, “No!”

2. Prioritise.

Easy to say, right? But not easy to do. I find the absolute best way to prioritise the important stuff is a process called ‘Big Rocks’, I’m sure you’ve heard about it. Mentioned in Steven Covey’s, "7 Habits of Successful People"; referencing an old professor of his if I’m not mistaken.

‘Big Rocks’ represent the things that are important to do, and important to you. The way I do this is to schedule in time in my diary for ‘Big Rocks’ each week first. Then I find I have less available time to do other non-valuable stuff. And guess what; it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get done.

But if you don’t make the time, other things will creep in and push out the ‘Big Rocks’. The number of times I talk with business owners who are running around busy and say, “I just don’t get time for strategy or planning.” That’s just a cop-out; make time for the important things.

3. Outsource.

You used to have to put on a part-time or full-time staff member to take things off your desk, but these days with online ‘tasking’ sites and off-shoring and other options you can have a very flexible approach to outsource the ‘knucklehead’ stuff off your desk.

You must put a value on your time as the business owner. And as much as possible, don’t do the low-value stuff, if it is stopping you getting to the high-value stuff. I understand you may have limited budgets, but to expand and be a successful business owner you have to do the important things.

4. Track your time.

I use a free online time tracker called “my hours”. I recommend you track all your time for a period of three to four weeks and then notice how much time is being wasted on low-value tasks. It will open your eyes on what you actually spend time on. In this way, you can rearrange your schedule and put in the high-value stuff first.

5. Stop being a victim and become a ‘Time Lord or Lady’.

Apologies in advance, but I’m going to be blunt in this last tip. Knock off the whingeing about not having time. You are the business owner, and you’re in charge.

Stop doing the stuff that gets no results and focus on the things that do. Invest your time in the things you want to do and the things you have to do. Reorganise and take control and stop being a victim.

There you have 5 ways you can make the best use of your time as a business owner.

If you’re mature age and about to start a business, you’ve now probably got an inkling of what other business owners run into, and you can start off right, and never fall into the ‘Time Trap’.

Thanks, Hunter.  That is very useful.

Is Lack of Time Crippling You?

There is no one silver bullet solution to time trap problems.  Rather, it is a matter of steady, incremental continuous improvement.  Improvement will take off the pressure being felt.  As Hunter suggests, take these steps, and invest in your time so it adds value to your business..

Making more productive use of your time creates time.

If you would like to have a chat with me about the tools I use to help businesses create time in their business, book a Strategy Consult here. 


© Copyright 2017 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective 

Is that enough?

What are you doing this month to reinvent your business?  2018 is only just around the corner.  It’s kinda crept up on us, unobtrusively hiding itself in the shadows.  But the Christmas lights will soon bring it out of the shadows, and it could overwhelm you before you’ve prepared for battle. 

It is time to start thinking about what’s going to happen next year in and with your business?  Have you thought about it?  What do you hope to achieve.?  What profit are you planning on achieving?

If you don’t have an objective, you can’t be accused to failing to achieve it!  The business that has nowhere to go will get there!  But I’m sure that’s not really what you want.

So let’s start thinking about where you want to be at end of next year, and then we’ have a look at some basic steps you might want to take.  Now I’m not talking about a full-blown business plan, but rather a few practical steps that might make 2018 more of a path to the future, than a voyage into the unknown.

And we also have to look at the infrastructure you need to get there.

But first, what’s the ground you’re standing on like.  You can’t do a high jump from marshy ground.  You have to make sure of the ground you are launching from, before lifting off.

Do you really know, to a reasonable degree of accuracy, what the state of your business is at this very moment?  Is your business like that, you don’t know where you are, how you are travelling, or even whether you are heading in the right direction?

Without context, and a clear path to follow, it’s easy to feel like you are driving in the fog.  People need to see where they are, where they are going, and how they are going to get there, so they can relax.

Dr. Greg Chapman reckons “Understanding where your business is and where you want it to be is the first step in planning.”  I disagree.  That is two steps, not one.

You can’t properly address the “Where to” if you don’t know and understand the lift-off point.  Sound information; i.e. data plus analysis, is necessary if you want to set achievable goals, and know how you can realistically achieve them.

This dilemma I looked at in “Can you see the way ahead?”,

So to the next step:  Where to?

Where do you want to be by this time next year?  Is it profits? Cash in the bank? Market share?  Decimating the competition?  I can’t tell you that, but you can, whether it is dreaming in the early hours of the morning, or hard planning session with your team.

Do you want to turn your business into a profit machine, a profit machine that gives you the returns you seek, the payback you dreamt about when you started your business, the respect from your peers that say this bloke knows what he is on about, he knows what he is doing, he is a success?

There is a big difference between having a picture in your mind about what you want to achieve with your business and being able to translate that picture into words on a piece of paper.  I see it all the time when I run business planning workshops; getting small business owners to be clear on what they want to achieve with their business is difficult.

They toss around vague terms like “be profitable”, “success” and “being successful” with gay abandon.

But what do they really mean?  What is success?  How much profit?  By when?

One of the functions of a vision is a “guide to decision making”.  In fact, it is the foundation on which you base all other decisions.

The fastest and surest way to achieve you vision is to be able to think through that vision clearly and correctly, and write it down.  Articulate it.  Then you will make clearer and more useful decisions.

All the strategies and plans in the world won’t help if you have not laid the foundation for them with clarity on what you are trying to achieve.  So it is worth spending some time thinking it through and achieving that clarity.

Most people don’t.  They are even uncomfortable in trying to do so.  They come up with a form of words and move on to the more detailed work; specific goals to achieve that unclear vision, specific strategies to achieve those specific goals to achieve that unclear vision.  Some foundation!

No wonder so many small businesses flounder and go around in circles.  Their decision making is flawed from the start.  

There is a second facet to this issue, and that is if you have no clarity about where you are going, and what you are trying to achieve, then it is hard to identify what is holding you back.

And if you can’t identify what is holding you back, how then can you remove that impediment?

So how can you obtain that clarity?

There are three steps:

Step 1 - ask yourself these questions:

•    What kind of business do we want to be?

•    What will the business be like when we achieve the Vision?

•    What do we want people to say about us as a result of our work?

•    What values are most important to us?

•    What will be the key characteristics of my business in x years’ time?

Step 2 - Then, and this is designed to really loosen the shackles of the mind, undertake an ‘imaginary journalism’ exercise:  Imagine you are a journalist writing an article.  Create a story vividly describing the successes you and the business will have achieved at some future time two, three or five years from now.

Have a bit of fun with it; this is when you can write with jolly impulsiveness.  Liberate your hopes and dreams.

Step 3 - The hard work starts.  Convert that journalistic licence into a SMART vision.

Specific – the beginning of clarity.

Measurable – if you can’t measure it how will you know your progress to its achievement.

Achievable – What you are trying to achieve should be a stretch, after all its part of your dream, but dreams beyond reach fail to inspire for very long.

Relevant – you are in the wrong business if your vision is not related to the business you are in.   

Time-based – Hey, you want to achieve that ‘success’ but when?  

Remove the haze from what you are trying to achieve.  Clarity of your vision is your foundation for the future, leading to better decisions and helping you remove the impediments to your progress!

Do that, and you will be ready to turn the corner into 2018, so that next year is not just more of the same.

Have you clearly defined your Goals for the next 3 – 5 years?

When clients approach me for coaching, clients with businesses that are underperforming despite the crippling hours and effort the owner is putting into them, they are sometimes held back by lack of knowledge of what is possible.  A lack of focus of potential improvements leads to a lack of control over their business, and eight times out of ten that lack of control comes down to a lack of knowledge of what is happening in the business, and what their peers are achieving.

For more than 29 years I’ve been helping small business owners plug the profit leaks in their business and restoring their cash flows by assisting them understand where and how they may change their business to be a leader in profitability, productivity, and competitive advantage.  I assist you analyse:
•    The strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats of your business
•    Determine where you want to be – clear, achievable goals, and
•    How you are going to get there – strategies to achieve your goals

This is sometimes known as the NOW – WHERE – HOW model.

If you would like to discuss with me how you might do that, book a Strategy Consult here.  

© Copyright 2017 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective  

That question tantalises all of us running our own business. 

Do you actually decide your prices through a well thought out price strategy (the sensible, but usually unused approach), or gut feel?  I’d bet the latter!

Let’s see if this will help you.

In my previous posting based on the “personal reflections on pricing” of Per Sjofors, Founder/CEO of Atenga Inc. I looked at the problems arising from not having a proper strategy, and using a “simplified” approach.  The chances are that is what you are using. 

Pers suggest price-savvy companies use a more sophisticated pricing strategy - an optimized pricing strategy. In the context of pricing, this is what it means: The price of your product or your service provides you the opportunity to capture a portion of your customers’ willingness to pay. When your pricing strategy is optimized, you make the best use of that opportunity - you are capturing the maximum possible of that willingness to pay.

Now that sounds better.

In that post I looked at Pers’ six pricing options that could be utilised in an “optimised procing strategy”.  They are:

•   Good-better-best

•    Bundles and unbundles

•    Price imaging

•    Options

•    Differentiated price structure

•    Clarity

Let’s move on to look at how Pers suggests you might use these to optimise price levels.

Optimized price levels

The price of your product or services is a value statement. In fact, it is the strongest value statement you can make. It is the price itself that makes the value; the exclusivity of the brand is generated and maintained by the high price, and the high price is a strong indicator of quality and design of the product.

Even if the manufacturing cost, including cost of exclusive raw materials, of a Prada handbag may be 3 - 5 - 10 times that of a “generic” nonbranded handbag, it is still the price that makes up most of the value it generates for its buyers.

So how can you tie this into optimized price levels? Here is how: Of course, there are people, many people, who can’t afford a $4,000 handbag. At the same time, there are people who can afford it but believe the price is ridiculously high and others, not very many, I would guess, who think the price is not high enough, does not provide enough exclusivity and therefore value.

And this is the trick with optimized pricing. At any given price you set, a number of prospective buyers will simply say they cannot afford it; a number of prospective buyers will say they just won’t buy it, and, maybe surprisingly for some readers, some will say it is not high enough, does not message enough of a value and quality, so they won’t buy for that reason.

So prices are optimized at the price point where the minimum of prospective buyers, say the price is either too high or too low, and they will not buy because of that, and, where the maximum of buyers say it is good value and meets their price expectations. They are further optimized when there are structures and sales processes (such as those listed above) that capture higher prices when buyers are willing to pay “more,” and also win the business of buyers who would be profitable but are only willing to pay “less.”

This is all about psychology of pricing. It’s based on how we humans make buying decisions. And we are all different.

You get what you price for:  The price of a product or a service is the strongest message of that product’s or service’s quality. It sets the buyers’ expectations of quality. So the price becomes either the driver for a company’s business strategy or market position. The price needs to be set in full support of that business strategy or market position. Any discrepancy will alienate customers.

You know that pricing is more than just a number, as Pers suggested in the previous post. It is process and structure. Its tentacles reach to almost every nook and cranny of your company; sales, product marketing, production, product management, finance, executives and maybe even to the board.

And I’m sure that if you see a mountain of things to do to get your company into optimized pricing, not only do you need it the most, but the sooner you start the better.

And of course, you’ll start small. Maybe just take 10 or 20 of your products. Have your product management categorize these products into A - B - C - D categories. A for totally unique products, D for totally commodity products. B and C for in-between.

Then for A products you simply stop all discounting.

For B products you lower the allowed discount rate. You have your product management work on unbundles for the A and B products. You may want to try to increase price for them, and increase sales commission too - but just for the A products. Devise a good-better-best strategy for these products. Introduce price imaging - maybe with bundles.

You look at the D products with the view of “are they strategic?”, “can we further reduce cost?” and “are we making enough money on these so it makes it all worthwhile?”. If they are not strategic or you are not making enough money on them, ask yourself why you still want to sell them. If you decide to - what can you do to reduce cost?

As you follow the results of these 10 or maybe 20 products, I can guarantee that you’ll be astonished of the results. It will add to your bottom line so that you gain more resources to continue the price optimization; categorize more products; generate more un-bundles and bundles; train your salespeople on selling without discounting; invest in research to discover buyers’ true willingness to pay.

Eventually you probably will need to recruit a person to run the pricing process in the company, and now you are really in price optimization happy-land and you realize that your revenue growth will double and your profits too - compared to when you started out.

Thanks Pers.  Now I challenge you to trial his A, B, C, D process.  Let me know the results.

Would you like a hand to improve your pricing?

When clients approach me for coaching, so often, they are troubled by their profitability, or lack of it.

Their pricing strategy is usually simple, and not differentiated from the competition.

For more than 29 years I’ve been helping small business owners plug the profit leaks in their business and restoring their cash flows by assisting them understand where there profits really come from, where they’re leaving money on the table, and where their sales are costing them profits.

If you would like to discuss with me how you might do that, book a Strategy Consult here

© Copyright 2017 Adam Gordon, The Profits Leak Detective 

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