Annual client review? Add a splash of ketchup

On today’s Fable Friday I’ll give you an easy tip on how to make the annual client review more effective.

In his outstanding book “What the Dog Saw,” Malcolm Gladwell tells this story. Many years ago the H. J. Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, decided to do some market research on how families used their number one product, ketchup. So they sent researchers into a number of families’ homes to observe.

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-ylglp7-clipartOne of them told this story.  “There was a three-year-old and a six-year-old, and what happened was that the kids asked for ketchup and the Mom brought out a forty-ounce bottle.  The three-year-old went to grab it, and Mom intercepted the bottle and said, “No, you’re not going to do that.”  So she took the bottle away and poured out a little dollop. No doubt you’ve done this with your own kids when they were little. You see the kid trying to pour a glass of milk from a gallon jug and you say, “Whoa! Let me do that. You’ll spill it all over the place.”

For Heinz, that moment was a wake-up call, because a five-year-old uses 60 percent more ketchup than a forty-year-old, and Heinz realized it needed to put the ketchup in a bottle that the child could control.

The researcher commented, “If you’re four, you don’t get to choose what you eat for dinner, in most cases, but the one thing you can control is ketchup. It’s the one part of the food experience that a child can customize and personalize.”

As a result of these observations and conclusions, Heinz introduced the smaller EZ Squirt bottle, made of soft plastic with a conical nozzle.  And in homes where the EZ Squirt is used, ketchup consumption has grown by as much as 12 percent.  Pretty slick, wouldn’t you say?

Now how does this apply to you when you sell? Do what Heinz did.

If you’re involved in consultative selling and building client relationships, you no doubt schedule annual relationship review meetings. Next time make the first item on the agenda an in-depth “How are you using our product(s) now?”  You’ll often find your client is missing out on a product feature they could be using but don’t, either because they don’t understand it, or no one has shown them how they benefit from it.

A useful example involves any product that relies on software, such as treasury management, cash flow forecasting, foreign exchange, CRM and the like.  Ask how your customer is using it now, so you can make useful suggestions on how to optimize the product’s value.  I’ll bet if my tech-savvy son were to ask me to sit down with him and show him how I use my iPhone, he could give me a dozen pointers on features the phone has that I don’t use, either because I don’t know about them or don’t know how to make them work.

The idea is that annual reviews must begin with some value add by you, before you begin the tedious “What else can we sell this guy?”

Observing usage and asking good questions, whether it’s ketchup, software or any other product is a great way to…

Think Like Your Customer

A sales management coaching tip from Lou Holtz

Some time ago I had an interesting conversation with Nancy Lieberman, the greatest female basketball player of all time, an Olympian, a pro player, the only woman to coach a men’s pro basketball team, and a Hall of Famer. Our conversation got around to coaching, a subject she knows a thing or two about, and I was fascinated by this story she shared from Lou Holtz, the former college and NFL coach and another superstar of motivation.

HoltzCoach Holtz positions this challenge.  “Say you have a big thick length of solid wood, about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long, and you place it over a couple of cinder blocks a foot or so off the floor.  You blindfold your player and challenge him to walk from one end to the other. He’d say, ‘That’s easy,’ and stroll right across. So his thoughts would be only about success.

But now suppose I tell him I’m going to raise the platform. I’ll put the wood between two buildings 50 stories high.  Now the player thinks, ‘Uh oh. I could fall.’  The challenge is exactly the same but the athlete’s confidence is now lower.”

Nancy adds, “So as a coach, you have to see that when goals are low, confidence is high, and when goals are high, confidence can start to slip away, even when the skills needed to succeed are exactly the same.  Your job as the coach is not just setting high goals. You also have to work on the player’s confidence, by keeping negative thoughts out of his head.”

Now back to you.  How well are you doing that as a coach?  Do you find fault, assign blame, point out the negatives, suggest what could go wrong? Or are you skilled at developing positive images of success in the minds of your team? When your sales team listens to you in meetings or one-on-one coaching sessions, do they walk out knowing exactly what to do, or are they more likely to be fearful of failure?

Let’s examine the business priorities.  You want to challenge your sales team with aggressive goals and you want them to be successful in achieving them, to make more money and profit for your company, your team and yourself.

But remember:  High challenges can cause low confidence.

In every coaching conversation with your sales team, work to build their confidence.

“I know you can do this.  You’ve done it before.”

“Focus on success.”

“Let’s talk about what you need to do to win.”

“I can’t wait to hear you tell me how you nailed this call.”

“How can I help you achieve your goals?”

Learn to think and feel the way your team does, in order to coach more effectively, just as you…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: Want great coaching? Play a round of golf at St. Andrews

If you’ve ever played golf using a caddy in the U.S., you know you’re going to get superb service.  The caddy will advise you on what club to use, tee up your ball, tell you the distance, and then praise your shot.  After all, the caddy wants a good tip.

But years ago I played all three courses at St. Andrews in Scotland, and the caddy experience is quite different.  The caddies will bet against their own player, crack jokes about the players throughout the round and are unconcerned whether they play well or not.  The golf was good at St. Andrews, but the caddies’ stories as we walked the famed courses were far greater.

On the first hole of the old course is the Swilcan Burn, a thin stream that cuts across the fairway, and because you cannot see it from the tee, it’s common to hit into it.  The caddy told me of an American golfer who swore that if he hit into it again he’d drown himself in it.  The caddy told him, “Na ya won’t.  Ya canna keep your head down that long.”

Later in the round I hit into one of those deep cylindrical bunkers and was fortunate to get out of it in one shot. Walking toward the green he told me another story of a golfer who climbed down into the bunker, looked at the steep walls all around him and asked, “Is it even possible to hit out of this thing?”  The caddy told him that he once saw Fred Couples do it easily.

So the guy takes a wedge and begins blasting away, and after 3 or 4 hacks at it he says, “I thought you said you saw Fred Couples hit it out of here,” to which the caddy replied, “Yah, but your na Fred Couples.”

fred-couplesI was reminded of the series of posts I wrote recently on the behaviors of effective coaches, one of which is that they all get to the teaching point quickly.  You can facilitate the solution with the salesperson, such as “What is your plan?”  “What do you intend to do about this?”  “What do you think the solution is?”  But when it comes to identifying the problem, get to the point quickly and directly. Don’t beat around the bush.

“You’re simply not calling enough.”

“You made no effort to find out what the customer’s problem was. All you did was present.”

“Customers aren’t impressed by a sales rep who has to read his own brochure to answer a question. You weren’t prepared.”

Do you think the other golfers in my foursome were offended by the directness of the caddies? You should have seen the huge tips they gave and heard them laugh as they related their own experiences at the bar.

In general, people appreciate being told the truth without sugar coating. It may sting a bit at first, but it’s important to get the performance issue out on the table in clear, concise language.  Show your player you’re thinking about him, just as you…


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Fable Friday: The gymnast, the horse and a coaching tip

My October newsletter had a higher than usual open rate and many shares so I guess readers found it useful.  If you aren’t a subscriber, you can find it here.  You recall that in the email to the sales team member, the sales manager incorporated five activities that were necessary to make the upcoming joint sales call effective.

  • Let the sales guy lead the call.  Don’t take over and hog it. Provide a learning opportunity for your rep.
  • Set an expectation for pre-call preparation. State that you will be looking for something of value the rep provided. The key question will be, “What did the prospect learn from you that he didn’t know before you walked in the door?”
  • Insist on a clear set of objectives or outcomes from the call, most important being agreement to the next call. “Introducing ourselves and building rapport” is insufficient.
  • Shape the call as one of learning and prospect engagement. Get the prospect talking. We’re not here to make a presentation and talk about ourselves. Have the rep send you the questions he plans to ask.
  • Make sure the rep sends out a strong agenda before the call to differentiate himself as a professional and set expectations for a meaningful conversation.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedOne of the challenges to effective coaching is that it often takes place after some activity or result, when things didn’t go well. Then the coach finds himself criticizing in such a way that both the coach and the performer don’t feel so good after the session.  I’m sure it’s happened to you. Here’s a story that includes an easy tip to help you become a better coach.

A study* on the way coaches provided formative (corrective) feedback, and reinforcing (positive) feedback on gymnasts performing on the horse, shows us how people respond to different types of feedback.

In the vault exercise, the gymnast sprints toward the horse, lands on a springboard, pushes off forcefully, grips the horse briefly and continues the exercise with flips, turns and other movements, then lands on both feet.

In the study, two coaches take turns greeting each gymnast after the exercise. One coach provides reinforcing and formative feedback, for example “That was good, but next time push off harder and go higher.”  The other coach provides only reinforcing feedback:  “That was good!”  But at that performer’s next turn the second coach calls out, “This time try to push off harder and go higher.” This may seem like a slight difference, but according to the study, the second coach was both more effective and was perceived to be more effective by the gymnasts.  The second coach separates formative and reinforcing feedback, placing the formative instruction just before the exercise.

So here’s your tip.  Next time you coach one of your sales team, do it before the call, just as our sales manager did in the newsletter:  “On this call I want to see you focus on getting as much information as possible and getting the prospect engaged.  Put together some great questions and let’s go over them.”  This will be far better than saying after the call, “I didn’t think you got as much information as you could have. What questions should you have asked?” Using the “coach before” approach puts a positive vision of success in the mind of your salesperson.  Using the “coach after” runs the risk of assessing blame.

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*Tosti, D.T. “Formative Feedback” NSPI Journal, 1978

Last week’s coaching quiz answers—did you get them all?

Last week I gave you a short quiz to help you analyze performance problems by determining if the deficiency was a Know issue (K), a Do issue (D), or a Feel issue (F).  Let’s look at it again along with the answers.

  • One of your sales reps has worked for you for three years. She has recently attended a training program in making referrals in which she performed very well.  Now back in the office, she has not made a single referral to any customer after four weeks.  This is clearly a Feel issue, or F.  You have evidence that she can do the work, but she isn’t doing it, so there is some attitudinal obstacle.  Maybe she’s afraid to ask questions or make recommendations.  How will you find out what’s in the way?  When you coach her, simply ask!
  • The company has introduced a brand new product, which is fairly complex. You held one brief sales meeting to go over the highlights of the product but none of the staff is very familiar with it.  You overheard one of your sales staff give a customer an incorrect explanation of how the product works.   This is a Know issue, or K. The product is complex, you haven’t taught it adequately and the team doesn’t yet understand it fully.  There are lots of remedies here:  training, sales meeting product reviews, designating an expert in the office to teach the others, learning tools, such as quick “cheat sheets” and other interventions.
  • Your new customer service rep has been on the job for only six She is trying to use a Customer Needs Assessment form but is having some difficulty listening to the customer, recording information on the form and then asking the next question.  It sounds very awkward to you as you listen to her customer conversations.  This is simply a Do issue, or D.  She’ll get better at it with practice, just as all of us do the more we work with an unfamiliar activity.  Here’s an example. Ask someone to remove his jacket, and then put it back on this time putting the other arm in first.  Most of us put the same arm in first.  People have a hard time with it!
  • You have conducted several sales meetings in which you have stressed the importance of taking time to understand the customer’s needs before mentioning products or discussing features and benefits. Nevertheless, one of your sales reps launches straight into a presentation of all the company’s products and features the second the customer says, “I would like to speak to someone about opening a new”  I tried to trick you here. You don’t have enough information to answer this question. It could be that the rep doesn’t know what questions to ask, is unskilled at framing questions or hates to ask questions at all.  You must have a conversation and find out what’s in the way before you begin any remedial intervention.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedNotice that with Know and Do, the solutions are pretty straightforward, but with Feel they are often complex.  In selling we know the power of the feelings issue, as it’s the biggest driver in sales.  Same goes for coaching. You must understand how feelings can interfere with job performance and then understand how feelings can influence the coaching conversation.

We’ll continue this discussion next week with more ideas on performance analysis and coaching best practices, following the same principle in coaching an employee as selling to a customer.   In other words…

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Fable Friday:  A tip from St. Francis of Assisi, Ace Performance Consultant

Some years ago you probably read Stephen Covey’s famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”   One of his habits was “Seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood.” This is a critical behavior in consulting, as well as in all communication in which we seek a meaningful dialog with someone else in an effort to help, or add value.

(For the record, the good Mr. Covey stole this idea from St. Francis of Assisi  (1182 – 1226), who prayed, “Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.”  I mean, come on, who steals from a saint?)

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedYou’re probably in the business of sales, sales management, consulting, training or some similar role in which it’s necessary to change the behavior of someone else. And if so, you will be on very dangerous ground if you attempt to teach, coach, lead, sell or negotiate if you are not completely clear on what your counterpart thinks, does or needs.  That is why seeking to understand first is a critical skill.

Here’s a useful tip for you in knowing when it’s most important to learn more and get clarity about any subject.  It’s when you are given a nebulous concept rather than a descriptive behavior. Here are three examples I hear in my own practice:


  • “They’re all order takers. They need to do a better job of needs identification.”
  • “My managers need to do a better job of coaching.”
  • “What we need at the senior management level is more leadership.”

Now here are suggestions about what St. Francis would ask in response:

  • “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘order takers.’ Please share with me what they are doing or not doing when they attempt to identify needs.”
  • “What do they do now when they coach? What do they need to do differently? Give me examples.”
  • “Let’s talk a bit about leadership. What does leadership mean, and what exactly would you like to see the leaders do.”

You see the idea? Joe Pesci does this neatly in the movie “Goodfellas.” He pointedly asks for clarity about the word “funny.”  “You think I’m funny?  Funny how?”

Now let’s look at three statements that salespeople hear.  If you’re in sales you should jump all over them:

  • “Switching would be difficult for us. It’s far more convenient to keep doing it the way we’re doing it.”
  • “The software we’re using now is faster, although not a very robust product overall.”
  • “We have a very good relationship with our current provider.”

So if I asked you to go back and circle the words that suggest you need a clearer understanding, you would certainly point to “convenient,” “robust,” and “relationship,” e.g., “In what way is it convenient?”,  “What do you mean by robust?” and “Please tell me more about the relationship. What do they do that you value most?”

You get the idea.

In my next few posts I’m going to begin to discuss two of the concepts mentioned above, coaching and leadership, because I hear them all the time and I’m convinced after many years as a consultant that no two people genuinely agree about the behaviors associated with either of them.

What does coaching mean?  What do leaders do?  We’ll start next week with a beginning definition of coaching and then describe the behaviors that effective coaches practice.

Meanwhile, don’t let people get away with lazy concepts.  Seek to understand, and…

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Fable Friday: Coach Bear Bryant’s sales tip

Many years ago, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant shared this story of his early years at Alabama.

“I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car recruiting a prospect, and I was having trouble finding the place.

Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said ‘Restaurant.’ I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedA big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, ‘You probably won’t like it here. Today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?’

I said, ‘I’m from Arkansas, and I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.’

They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, ‘You ain’t from around here then?’

I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was and he gives me directions to the school.

As I’m paying up to leave he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. He asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there.

I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one.

When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, ‘Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.’

Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed, and he’s got two friends going to Auburn who tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed.

Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down. He says, ‘Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?’

And I said, ‘Yes I sure do.’ And he says OK, he’ll come.

And I say, ‘Well son, what changed your mind?’

And he said, ‘When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met. You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him…’

‘My grandpa said that when you left, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.’

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right.

It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice.”

So if you’re reading this, you’re most likely in some sales capacity and here’s where you may go astray. You’re always looking for an edge.  “Should I call this guy X number of times?   How many samples should I give out? How do I build my referral network? What benefit can I expect for my business by joining a service organization?”

It’s not you. It’s what you often hear from others. What’s the edge?  The tactic?

But the most successful salespeople I’ve ever met are the ones who never worry about this stuff.  They’re the ones who are always giving themselves away. “How can I help you succeed?” they ask. And they mean it.

I say, quit worrying about the tactics and the sales gimmicks.  Give to others, show your kindness and generosity.  Customers will flock to you. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice.

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday:  Can you sing more than one song?

Back in the 1950’s there was an up-and-coming country singer from Indiana named Bobby Helms.  In 1957 he hit number one on the pop charts with “You are my special angel,” and later in that year the producers at Decca suggested that he ought to come out with a Christmas song, and gave him one to record.

“I really didn’t want to cut it because it was such a bad song. So me and one of the musicians worked on it for about an hour putting a melody and a bridge to it,” Helms told The Indianapolis Star in 1992.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedWell, you know the song of course, because you hear it at Christmas-time about every 15 minutes on the radio.  It sold 100 million copies and pops up in numerous Christmas movies, such as “Home Alone.” Helms sang the song for awhile on shows such as Ed Sullivan, but despite the popularity and acclaim, he got sick of singing it.

But we still hear it dozens of times this season.  Maybe we’re sick of it too.

Consider the danger to a career, especially banking, if you get pigeon-holed as being able to do only one thing.

I often see people looking for jobs as “commercial lenders,” and the experienced ones are quite skilled. But today, that’s a dangerous place to be.  There’s plenty of money to be made on the deposit side of commercial banking. Why restrict yourself to lending?

Even today’s Relationship Managers will admit their primary skill set is lending and when asked about exploring opportunities on the deposit side, will say “that’s why we have Treasury Management Officers.”

If you truly think like your customers, you should be competent to explore and help with all their needs, not just how much they need to borrow.

I learned the hard way as an independent consultant that you have to be able to do more than one thing.  In the training business you had better be a skilled instructional designer, be able to develop relevant training and hold the room as a facilitator. You also have to plan a business strategy, sell, measure, coach and follow up on every opportunity.

As we come to the end of 2014, maybe you’re thinking of a career change.  Good for you. But if you’re serious, take a good assessment of your skills and ask yourself:  do you bring several talents to the market?  Or will you spend the rest of your career singing “Jingle Bell Rock”?

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Do it with love

Many years ago my wife bought me one of the best cookbooks I own, “Lutece”, written by Andre Soltner, the chef and owner of the famous French restaurant in Manhattan.

In the Introduction, Soltner tells a story of his calling to be a chef, a passage I come back to from time to time because it has so much connection to my own work.

“My wish to cook for others, and for my food to be appreciated, is a wish to do what my mother did, a wish to be for others what she was for us.  The possibility that my cooking will please people, and that they will be pleased with me because of it, is what always excited me about being a chef.

When I was fifteen, I became for three years an apprentice in the kitchen of the Hotel du Parc, in Mulhouse, a city not far from our town. Each week on my day off I would go home to visit my family.  One of these visits I remember very well.

In the hotel kitchen, I had finally learned how to make an omelette.  Really, I must have made a thousand of them before I could do it right. But when I went home on my day off and made omelettes for my family, they all said, No, my mother’s omelette was better.

They were right.  My mother’s omelette was better, because it was made with love, love for us.  In my mother’s omelette, and in all the things my mother made, there was something that was part of us.  We knew the taste of her food the same way we knew each other.”

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedNow tomorrow begins the holidays, and each of us will talk about a dish we will make for the Thanksgiving celebration.  There will be traditional dishes, new dishes, and sometimes dishes we don’t care for, but mostly they will be dishes we look forward to, because no matter the recipe, they will be made with love.

I don’t know whether you share my passion for cooking or not, but there are so many opportunities left for you this year to do whatever you do with love.  Work hard, be kind to those you lead, say something positive to those who trying so hard. Create a great experience for your family, friends and co-workers.  Whatever you do, do it with love, and it will come back to you in the most wonderful ways.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Fable Friday: Don’t let the customer waste your time!

“You asked me ten thousand questions and I answered every one,” shouts Robert DeNiro at the bewildered car-shopping couple in the movie “Analyze That.”  His rant begins with, “So, are you going to buy the car or not?”

He “builds rapport” by showing them all the room in the trunk, “You could put three bodies in there,” and then calls their Lexus a Toyota, as he scares them out of the showroom with advice on how they can talk to the manager.  Remember that scene?

DeNiro is a great actor and he makes this scene so realistic and comedic it’s hard not to laugh. You can find it on YouTube, but please don’t watch it at work, and because of the language I won’t post the link.  You’re on your own with this one.

I mention it here on Fable Friday because it introduces the notion of spending time with a customer only to find there’s no sale. Often a frustrated salesperson will say, “That customer wasted my time. I did all I could, answered all his questions, gave him a demo, a fair price, but he still wouldn’t buy.”

You know that in the world of professional sales you wouldn’t be in this spot. Qualified customers don’t “waste” your time.  You do the right things and sometimes you get the sale, and sometimes you don’t.  The sales pro doesn’t make the mistakes DeNiro makes in the comedy. When he loses a sale he’s philosophical, looks at how he could have done better and moves on.

But let’s admit that there are some businesses whose sales model is designed to keep customers from wasting their time. After all, time is money. So here’s a good one.

How many emails would you say you’ve received this year from some deposed prince or other wealthy individual who needs your help getting his millions out of Nigeria?  If you could only provide your banking information and advance some funds up front to speed up the process, you’ll get a few million bucks yourself!

As you hit delete you may think, “These people must think I’m stupid or gullible. Only an idiot would fall for this.”

You would be right.  These emails are carefully constructed to mention Nigeria several times, contain misspelled words and typos and are ridiculously amateurish. And it’s all part of a calculated marketing approach designed to maximize revenue and avoid wasting time.

You see, only a very gullible person would respond to an email like this, and since it costs nothing to send out a million emails at a time, the fraudsters don’t want to be bombarded with hundreds of “interested prospects,” because that would be a waste of their time.  Instead, they are looking for just a very few, very stupid people.   And the scam works so well that the U.S. Secret Service has set up a task force to combat it. It’s an extraordinarily profitable business.  One California victim lost $5 million!

Cormac Herley, a computer scientist at Microsoft Research, wrote a brilliant paper explaining it, which I’m sure you can find on Google. Herley mentions that the best defense against such a scam would consist of people replying with interest to the emails, and tie up the scammers with lots of back and forth questions and false shows of interest, but who would do that? So the crooks keep making money by the early elimination of non-idiots.

Just goes to show that even crooks learn how to…

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