The Pavilion Podcast
The Pavilion Podcast

Episode · 2 months ago

Ep 158: The RFP Playbook w/ Kathryn Bennett of Loopio

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Ep 158: The RFP Playbook w/ Kathryn Bennett of Loopio

Part of the TGIM (Thank God It's Monday!) series hosted by Tom Alaimo.

All right, welcome back to the Pavilionpodcast. This is the podcast where revenue leaders come to learn about thetips, The tricks, the tactics that can make them successful in their roles.I'm your host. Tom a lame O T. G. I am. Thank God it's monday excited to getinto today's episode. Before we do that. Let's give a quick shout out to oursponsor sponsoring. Today's episode is Sandoz. So Sandoz So the leadingsending platform is the most effective way for revenue generating teams tostand out with new ways to engage at strategic points throughout thecustomer journey. By connecting digital and physical strategies. Companies canengage, acquire and retain customers easier than ever before. So definitelyshow some love to our friends at Sentosa. Can also learn more. I postevery single day on linked in my name is Tom Elena, you can learn more aboutme there. All right, today we've got an episode interview with Katherine.Bennett. Catherine is the director of RFP Excellence over at lou pio aPavilion member. Formerly, she did work at Dude Solutions running theirproposal team for several years and we break down everything that you need toknow about proposals in RPS, which is the bane of existence for many sales.People like myself, Catherine breaks it all down. She talks about not just howloopy it helps that solution, but just breaks down. How do you handle it as avendor? How do you handle it as a seller? It's a great episode where wetalk about this topic. So without further ado, let's get straight into myconversation with Kathryn uh All right, we've got Katherine Bennett theproposal. Strong woman on the line coming from colorado, How are you,Catherine? Hi, good. It's great to be here today. Yeah, excited. Too excitedto have you on. I have to ask just a second. Did you come up with thatnickname? Is that self proclaimed? Did someone come up with that for you?That's my own that's my own nickname.

And the reason that I have thatnickname for that I came up with for myself is because I compete instrongman competitions on the national level and actually hold some worldstrength records. So I figure if I have the strength to endure some seriousstrongman competitions, I probably have the personal strength to help you allfigure out how to drive your proposal management to success. So we will, wewill make that happen. I like that, I like that, it's probably easier to havea successful RFP than it is to like pull a tractor or like pick up boulderor whatever it is that's going on in those competitions. Well, you know,you'd be surprised both things really take a lot of discipline, preparationand coaching, so there's a huge amount of overlap between the disciplines ofweight training and I think a lot of aspects of sales, so hopefully we can,we can chat a little bit about that as we go into our discussion today. Yeah,yeah, let's do it. So I want to just be upfront and frank with you in theaudience if people listen, they know I'm in sales, I've been in sales mywhole career and seeing the three, the three letters of RFP, just give megoose bumps, they make me uncomfortable. I get a stomach ache, like it's so I'mexcited to hear about like your stance on it, how you alleviate the processand make it probably better for all parties involved. So I'd love to hear,just in general, it looked like you were in the RFP world even before Lupi.Oh, so maybe just walk me through how you actually got into that, being partof your career. Sure. So I've been in the professional communications andproposal writing world proserve marketing um for about 12 years beforeI came over to Lucio, which gave me a great amount of experience andbackground in systems that work and systems that really don't serve thebusinesses that they're housed in. Right. So I saw a lot of great proposalopportunities come down the pipeline to be executed really well. And then I sawsome of those systems fail on pretty...

...epic levels as well, some of which wasdue to, you know, inexperience of folks within the organization or just a lackof understanding of what proposals are all about, but also a lack of access totechnology. So I'm actually a former L. A. P. A user and I loved it so muchthat I asked them to hire me on board and and came onto this team because Ihad faced such significant amount of burnout. And when you say that you'renervous, when you see RFP come down the pipeline, you are definitely not theonly one. Even proposal managers feel a fair amount of trepidation when theyfeel like they don't have the right resources to get the job done. Andthat's why I have thrown my personal brand and my personal, you know, weightbehind Lupi Oh, is because I think it's a game changing software and I thinkthat these uh these automation processes that we bring to the proposalmanagement space really help address a lot of the pain, so it helps make ourFPs way more enjoyable, much more efficient and much more, much morebeneficial to the bottom line of the business. Yeah, I'm curious just fromyour experience or maybe from customers of lucio and from your own experiencebefore that, how important is it to have, you know, someone with a titlelike proposal manager or RFP director or whatever it might be thatspecifically tied for that being there day to day job versus, you know, thesales rep gets it and maybe they're tag teaming with someone in product or in asales engineer and whenever other types, you know, legal, whatever other typesof questions they're asking. My experience has been more of the latterwhere it's like, you know, a half dozen people all collaborating on a documentversus one or multiple people having that as their full time role. I thinkit really depends on your organization's needs and on the inputsthat you're putting into your system. So if you're doing, you know, one ortwo proposals a month and they're pretty light lifts, you probably don'tneed somebody with a dedicated title or maybe it's somebody who is a proposalmanager who also supports other sales content in the sales enablement realm.Something along those lines. Right?...

Where as if you reach this kind oftipping point of 50 to 75 proposals a year and also about 30% of your revenueis coming from proposals, then you definitely need to start thinking abouta more centralized locus of control so that you can maintain a better processflow. So for startups, do I think that you need a dedicated proposal manager?Probably not. But as you start moving into the middle stages of your businesslife cycle. Absolutely. Having somebody to be able to maintain control of thatsystem will improve efficiency and ultimately deliver on your bottom line.Yeah. And this is definitely not a paid ad for loopy or any means of that. I'mjust genuinely curious. You you were burnt out as a proposal manager and youstarted using Lupita what exactly was it about the solution that drove you towant to work there. Yes. So, you know, it was really interesting. I was, I wason boarding one of my employees as I was working at this previous companyand I showed her lou pio and she, she became visibly emotional and almostkind of teared up and she said oh my gosh, how much of my life have I wastedwithout this software and that powerful impact. The reason that I find thisparticular software program so effective is that it helps me defineworkflows and control my work in a totally different way. A lot ofproposal managers feel like they're kind of at the mercy of the sales team.So they feel as though they don't have much control or understanding overtheir work. Whereas if you can bring it into a centralized platform like loopyou, you can not only gain a better understanding of your work but alsoengage teams differently and make sure you have the access to the informationthat you've used in previous proposals because one of the biggest pain pointsfor me was was folks saying, hey, I know we included something about this,you know, five years ago when we proposed to the city of Denver and thenI would have to dive into actual hard copy binders to try to find thedocuments that we had produced. It kind...

...of, it kind of shows my age there butit really, I was a huge struggle to have to find information, bring myteams together and actually get the document out on time. I would say thatI saved between 32 35% on my return, my turn around time with uh, investing inthis particular software and I think that that, you know, many proposalmanagers could really benefit from that from that same approach. Mm hmm. So, uh,something that we had talked about a little bit before we started recordingwas uh, you know, one of the mistakes or one of the key topics. I think inthe spaces just measurement my experiences as a salesperson at someorganizations has been you get RFP oftentimes from a large enterprisecustomer. It's very long sometimes you feel like it's it's not going to paintyour product in the best light because you're trying to jam your value propinto a spreadsheet or you're gonna be judged solely on price or whatever itmight be. And then you you do it by the timeline that they need and then youcross your fingers and you hope that you win the deal are part of the dealone or a few weeks later. And then you don't know really like how that's goingas a whole process, right? There is no measurement. So that's maybe what badlooks like. I'd love for you to flip it for me and help educate me on like howcan teams, how can a VP of sales or rev ops like measure this to be effective.Yeah. And I think it's important. So my background also, I've, I'm educated inpublic health, which is where I draw a lot of my program planning and projectplanning philosophies. Um, so some of this nomenclature maybe maybe unusualto folks who are, who are in the sales space, but what we like to think abouta lot of times in public health with our programs is how is the systemworking? So that's going to be our process metric is what we call thatversus an outcome metric, which is like how many people got tested for cancerusing our screening programs or how many people, you know, ended upexperiencing this positive outcome by stopping smoking or something alongthose lines. Right? So when I think...

...about the way that my proposalmanagement system works, I'm looking at it from the same lens, I want tounderstand how the system is working through process metrics. So forinstance, a lot of companies find that they struggle with turnaround times indifferent aspects of their proposal. One of the big complaints is that, oh,perhaps the sales team gets the proposal on their desk and then it sitsthere for three weeks while they consider whether or not we want toproceed and then by the time we get it, gosh, it's just too late and we can'tdo a good job. So what if you measured the time from first release to the timethat you actually kicked off the project. And what would that tell you?Interestingly, I did a project back in 2016 where I actually did a researchstudy for The Marketer, which is the SNPs Marketing Journal. And I foundthat the win rate was directly correlated with how fast we kicked offthe project. So there are a lot of factors that go into that. Right? Howprepared were we did we have a good relationship with the customer? Did weknow the document was coming down the pipeline? Right. So we think about theway in which our process works. But we also want to think about the outcomesassociated with our FPs that go beyond just win rate. Because if we thinkabout the ways in which our proposal is advancing. So consider first maybe wegot to the short list but then we failed in the demo. What does that tellyou about your system and how does that help you make improvements? I'm a hugeadvocate of measuring, but I do think it's really important that we thinkabout what decisions we can make from the measurements that we're collecting.So I would say first identify some pinch points in your proposal process.Where do you where do you feel like there's some opportunity forimprovement measure around them and then try to see how you can improve.Yeah, I think it's, you know, it's definitely common stance for a leaderto, you know, say what, what gets measured, gets managed, right? Is thequote. And so to try to be able to understand where there might be holesin the process. What are from, from your experience or from some of thecustomers that you work with. What are some of the mistakes that people tendto make in the RFP process, whether in...

...management or just like how they'rehandling the whole process. Like if they if they don't do it thatfrequently. Sure. One of the big, big red flags is the fact that folks willpropose on work. That doesn't make sense for their organization simplybecause they don't want to miss out on the opportunity to promote their brand.And I would say that primarily if we think about proposals, they are fartherdown the decision making stream or down that marketing funnel, then we oftengive them credit for if you're introducing your brand to a customerwith a proposal, you've already lost the deal. Probably so. So we thinkabout in cases like this, if you feel like you're rushing around and you'rehandling too many proposals at once and you don't really feel like you'regetting the traction or the win rate. Maybe think about implementingsomething like a go no go process, which helps us uh, filter out to thoseopportunities that don't really suit our organization. So we might thinkabout being very intentional about the verticals that we pursue or the dollarvalue of the contract associated with this proposal, Right. That's one of thebest and most reliable ways to increase your win rate. Paradoxically, is to toprepare fewer proposals and it tends to drive higher revenue by being moreselective and improves, improves the perception of your brand as well. Itsounds like there's a lot of discipline that needs to be set in that standardbecause it's hard to avoid the bright, flashy RFP even though it's not a fit,there's that dream that what if we win this and it could change the corridorfor us or whatever it might be from a sales lens. But it sounds likediscipline needs to be a factor. Yes. And how are we, how are we finding outwhether or not we did a good job. I think, I think the discipline that wewere talking about, you know, with weight lifting and the disciplineassociated with, with proposal management absolutely plays a role here.And if you're not finding out whether your proposal was positively receivedafter the fact, if you're not doing a...

...win loss or some kind of debriefanalysis, then you're not really sure why you're losing. And, and I wouldrecommend here's the risk. If you send in a bad proposal, is that I'vedebriefed with customers who have literally laughed at me and said we didnot understand why you proposed on this. It was a beautiful proposal and it waswell written, but we threw it in the bin immediately when we received itbecause you are not in our domain of practice and we know you're not. So whydid you even propose? So the risk that you run is not just the lost costassociated with proposals, which by the way, are one of the more expensivemechanisms for sales capture right for the vendor and for the, for the personproposing. So you're wasting a lot of money on that end. But you're alsotaking a big hit on your brand because people are going to remember that theylaughed at you because you didn't, you didn't understand the assignment, youknow, so, so you're, you're advocating that, you know, after you felt theproposal, let's say you lose the deal for whatever reason to ask for adebrief and say, hey, what would the message look like to the, to theprospect there if you didn't win. But you wanted to learn maybe where youfell short. Sure most prospects and we've done it. We've done a fair amountof research on this. Most prospects are more than happy to hop on a 15 minutecall with you if you just schedule it both in the public domain where they'rekind of required to give you a debrief in a lot of situations, right. Legalmandates dictate that public entities do that for you, but also in theprivate space and, and really what I advocate in this instance is keepingthe discussion pretty simple and just asking for general impressions of thedocument and asking for, you know, what sections really drew your interest andwhat was the deciding factor in whether or not you chose our organization somany times and this is something I'm trying so desperately to debunk and Iknow there are a lot of people on this mission as well, but price is not thedetermining factor in most are FPs we find the procurement teams really careabout value. So how are you describing...

...that value? Not only in the RFP but inthe capture process that precedes it and also in the demonstration orinterview process that comes after that proposal is submitted. So there's awhole whole opportunity to think about the way that you're delivering valuethroughout that entire capture stream. Can we talk for a minute about the flipside of the RFP and you know, coming from the perspective of the RFP giverversus the RFP receiver, I'm curious, let's stick with the private sector,let's avoid government and things like that for now, but but let's say, youknow, I'm a VP of marketing and you know, I want to, this is the world thatI used to be in was like in the demand gen intent data space and that's wherewe got a lot of our FPs and so let's say I want to throw an RFP out for, youknow, a demand generation program to all these providers or or maybe I'mevaluating a solution. When would you suggest that an RFP is the correct moveversus you just go out and do it on your own and have those calls withsales people and go through a normal sales process with say a half a dozenvendors and do your evaluation that way. Sure. There are a number of factorsthat would weigh into that decision. And the first would probably be thedollar value of what you're looking to procure. If it's a one off, you know,you need some technical support for a small marketing effort. I don't think aproposal makes sense. But as you get into those higher risk categories andyou start thinking about how deeply entrenched and different organizationor provider might be within your own services, um really what, so what doesan RFP do for the issue where it helps reduce risk is really what we're comingdown to reduce risk, maximize value. We find that if you're using the proposalmanagement process, you're probably going to save on the order of 20 to 30%on the bids because folks are just much more competitive. Like that's why manyentities choose to go through proposal instead of going through traditionalsales methods. So also where there...

...might be a perception of a conflict ofinterest or, or frankly if you're not particularly familiar with the space.So if you think about the ways in which proposals kind of evolve, You startwith this request for information so that you can learn more about the spaceand get an understanding of the capabilities of the providers in thatdomain and then you move on to the request for qualifications so that youcan understand those specific individuals and then finally to therequest for proposal. So if you're if you're looking into a domain thatyou're just not very sure about running a full proposal process can save you aton of money, reduce your risk and actually lead to far better outcomes.So long as you scope your document very thoughtfully communicate how you willmeasure success to the person providing the services and also providetransparency on scoring and how you intend to make the decision. So thoseare the three things that I would say are really important is described theoutcome you want, describe how you're going to measure the outcome that thevendor delivers and make sure you're transparent about how you make thedecision and who should if we stick with that marketing example, we'll saywe're at a startup, who should that VP of marketing, consult internally aboutthis RFP like obviously, you know, she or he is maybe the decision maker maybe the most affected by this, but I'm sure they, in many cases they havefolks that work for them, they might, you know, work cross functionally withsales or rev ops or customer success, like should they be looping in someother folks or I'm sure it depends on the situation, but what's your guidanceon that? Yeah, absolutely. If you're creating an RFP to solicit additionalservices from outside your organization, you have to include the frontline staffthat will be either utilizing the service or product or engaging with theproviders in that instance, um because ultimately, you know, that as adecision maker in this realm, you know, the business outcomes that you'relooking for and the frontline staff can help bridge the providers proposal andhelp you understand how that will...

...actually impact your business outcomes.Um in addition, in this context, I would definitely think about engagingyour legal team very heavily and making sure that if you've got risk managementor procurement people on your team that those are, those folks are also engaged,but please, please, please don't forget the frontline staff that will actuallybe doing the work because they have a really great finger on the pulse aboutwhat's what's going on in this area. Mhm. I want to change gears a littlebit towards uh lou pecan, it's coming up soon after we record this, but itwill already have happened by the time that the listeners are tuning into thisshow, so maybe you could just tell me a little bit about what's what's gonna behappening at the show and how folks maybe can get access to it and whatsome of the talk tracks are. Yes, so 20, is our annuals. We're having our annualuser conference. It's not just for users, it's for all folks in theproposal space and frankly people in the sales domain who are interested inlearning more about how proposals affect their everyday lives. Therecordings will be made available on the loopy a website. Just stay tunedfor those. We have some great keynote speakers who are discussing how tomaintain great body language over zoom and also how to bring happiness intoyour, into your everyday life and how to make sure that you're bringinghappiness into your job, which I think is pretty compelling in this day andage. Um, but really we also have some exciting product information that'sbeing released. I don't want to spoil it about about new technologies thatare coming about and, and Lupita is really moving aggressively in themachine learning space to help folks not have to hire, like, not to have tonecessarily higher on a full other team member, but having our software withthe machine learning aspect of it can really empower your staff to act withthe power of multiple folks, right? Like it increases the power of theirpunch. And so I think it's really important to talk about the machinelearning aspects of our systems and how...

...these are moving to really supportproposal teams in a totally different way. So that's what we're reallyexcited about presenting at loop Con this year. That's great. That's great.And I'm curious maybe you do or don't have insight into this presentation yet,but any zoom body language tips that you can share with me and with thelisteners that you know of. Yeah. You know, I'm still waiting to see if we'vegot Erica Duggan who is a, who is a Harvard business Harvard business gradwho's going to be teaching us all about the, all about the zoom body language,but I'm sure I'm going to learn a lot. Yes, what I always think is weird isthat you've got the camera up at the top and then you're in the middle of myscreen and so if I look at you like you, you then I'm not looking at the cameraand if I look at the camera then it's like I'm not looking at you, it'severyone knows what I'm talking about. It sounds weird to say, but everyonecan relate to that, I'm sure of it. Yes, yes, it's a big challenge. So I'mexcited. I think this year's lubricant is really going to showcase. Uh notonly our software, but also the extreme business acumen that proposal managersbring to their businesses and I think it's something that's really overlookedis the business insights that proposal managers can bring to people who aremaking decisions about the ways in which revenue is collected, right? Wetalk about the fact that proposals are tend to have a higher dollar value. Sothey're riskier, right? But the reward is a higher pay off. So if you can dialin the way that you do your proposals again, speaking about the go no goabout the debriefs about using the right tools to streamline yourprocesses. There's hundreds of millions of dollars just waiting to be tapped.And honestly, most proposals, did you know that the average proposal only hasfour folks who submit. So you have, Yeah, they're not it's not they're notas competitive as a lot of people think like, like the average proposal. And Ithink on the outside of the outside edge, it's like 99 people that submit.So, so the fact is that the statistics...

...back up that it's a it's a pretty goodrisk to take if you're able to actually execute on the plan. And and so I thinkin investing in those additional insights, you know, the proposalmanagers are on the front line, they can collect a lot of really importantand valuable data that can be action upon to drive your business forward. Sowhen you're ready to grow, start doing proposals in my opinion. And it soundslike the proposal manager has a unique opportunity to, as you're saying aboutthe business document to actually shed light to the VP of, of differentrevenue departments that they might not know about right if you're seeingquestions come up or maybe the way that you're answering something isn'tresonating with prospects or customers. I'm sure the VP of sales maybe knowshow reps are doing that on calls or on demos, but maybe they have a blind eyeto how the market is perceiving them from an RP perspective. So I imagineyou have a lot of this data as a proposal manager that you can reallyuse to add a lot of value and you know, boost your, your own credibility and,and career internally. Uh, if you use that in a strategic way and there's adirect line if especially if you're incest, there's a direct line from RFPthat should be going to product and here's why it's because becauseproposals ask those questions about product functionality that will giveyou clues about how your competitors are behaving and that will also helpyou identify what the market demands. So you can actually get from thoseinnocent from those questionnaires or from those capability statements orwhatever else it is. You can see who your high stakes customers might beevaluating in additional in addition to your firm because you can see featuresmaybe that, you know, your competition offers that you don't that you don'tand you see it show up in the RFP, but you can also see really, you know,where is the market shifting and what do these customers want and it'scodified in a document. It's not just somebody, you know, somebody mentionedit one off, it's like an actual request. So very, very powerful tools. Yeah. Iwant to as we're wrapping this up, do a...

...couple of rapid fire questions with you.So the first obviously Pavilion community to help people, you know, addvalue to each other network etcetera, build relationships. What's your numberone networking slash business relationship tip for people? Oh yeah.Be willing to talk to people that you don't think have anything in commonwith you like like seek a diverse, diverse network. Because I've startedtaking coffees with folks who asked me to do random coffee's on linkedin andyou would be astonished the type of connections that I can make with that.So yes, I I connect with folks who I don't think I have much in common withand it has helped me really challenge my own assumptions. So I love it. We'rebig learners on this podcast. Everyone that listens knows that. Any books thatyou recommend that have helped you in your life in your career. That maybejust something that you have read recently or listened to recently and uhany topic is fair game. Yeah. Well, one of my best ones and let me, I'm justgonna peak over here really quick cause I gotta get the title of it right, Giveme go for it. All right. It is the ultimate bid and proposal compendiumkris K put this together. He is a C. P P A P. M. P fellow, It is veryaffordable here on Amazon. So if you're interested in learning more aboutproposals and you don't really know where to start. That is my, it'ssitting on my desk 90% of the time so that I can use the principles from thatbook. So 10 out of 10, the ultimate bid and proposal compendium highlyrecommend. That is a thick book too. That a lot. That's got a lot of info init. It's a hefty one. It's a hefty one. And then also just some other readingsthat I think are extremely useful that come out of the loop Eo brand. Um,honestly, the lupo benchmarking report helped me advocate for additionalresources when I was in the proposal space. So I would recommend checkingout the loop Eo 2021 benchmarking...

...report to understand the industry alittle bit more effectively. And also, um, we've got a metrics guide comingout. So all of these things will help you build out a really strongfoundation for your proposal management roles? I love it a couple more to letthe listeners know a little bit more about you. Um, what is, what's going onin your Spotify playlist? What's Catherine listening to nowadays. Ireally love um, nordic folk music. Okay, yeah, there's this guy, there's thisguy of Norwegian guy called war drona or Drew? No, that's really great. Andthen also I've started listening to a band called rainbow kitten surprise.Okay, It's also really great. But I love like new new wave techno and yeah,Norwegian folk music. That's kind of where I'm at right now. That's great.I've I've asked that question to a lot of people that have yet to hear nordicfolk music. So that's great. Thanks. Um and then any any um any podcasts thatyou tend to tune into, it could be business related or not. But I'm justcurious if there's anything that you got going on on on Apple podcasts,Spotify or anything like that. Yeah. You know, I love Levar Burton reads andI'm going to check because I really want to make sure that I get the, I getthe name of this podcast correct. Um Yes, one of my favorite ones is Tracy,Otsuka. Uh it's A D. H. D. For the smartest women. Um because uh because Istruggle with executive function on some occasions and to have somebody whounderstands my perspective about business and about how to get my how toget my life in order. It's really nice to listen to her podcast too. So LevarBurton reads and a PhD for smartass women. I love it. What's the LevarBurton reads? I'm not familiar with that. Oh yeah, it's the guy fromreading Rainbow and he reads to you read stories. It's amazing. Yeah, it'samazing and it has helped me access so many new authors that I never wouldhave and they're short stories. So...

...maybe 20 to 30 minutes. It's not a hugecommitment and uh it's really cheerful. So I love it. I love it. Catherine,thank you for spending the time today to to walk through some of this. Iffolks want to reach out, grab a zoom coffee with you, learn about our FPs,about strongman competitions or anything nordic folk music, anything inbetween. Uh what's the best place to to connect with you? Yeah, so I'mobsessively on linkedin. Like it's open all the time for me. My handle there isKatherine Bennett writes. So it's just my name with the word rights after it.I am also pretty uh pretty frequent user of the Pavilion slack space. Soyou can find me there in the Denver channel on a frequent basis. And thenemail Catherine dot Bennett at lupo dot com. I'm available for questions or tochat to chat about any of the topics that you mentioned. Yes, awesome.Catherine, thanks so much for your time. Thank you. And everyone go check outBlue pecan on rubio dot com. Thanks so much for checking that episode out ofthe Pavilion podcast again. You can hit me up on linkedin. My name's Tom Alamo.Otherwise, this episode was brought to you by Sandoz. So they deliver moderndirect mail, personalized gifts and other physical impressions that makeyour outreach more personal. Until next week. We'll see you on monday. Getafter it Peace, say something Mhm.

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