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The Relationship of Satisfaction and Performance to Salesforce Turnover

Author(s): Charles M. Futrell and A. Parasuraman

Source: Journal of Marketing, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 33-40
Published by: American Marketing Association
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Charles M. Futrell& A. Parasuraman

This article reviews pertinent research related to
the antecedents of turnover and discusses a research study involving a national industrial firm's
salesforce. The study examined the moderating
effect of salespeople's performance on the relationship between their job satisfaction and propensity to leave their firm. The paper concludes
with implications for researchers and sales managers.


Previous Research

ITHthecost, time, andenergyrequirements

operatinga salesforce at record levels, one of

today's top concerns of national sales managers is
turnoverof their salespeople. Some companies consider themselves fortunateif they retain 50% of new
salespeoplefor two to three years. When the costs of
recruiting, relocation, physical examinations, and
training,coupled with the cost of managementworking in the field with the new hire, are added to the
opportunitycost of lost business due to an empty sales
territoryand unrealizedsales potentialduringthe transition, total costs for some firms can range from $5075,000 per salesperson, or even more in high technology industries.
A few companies are beginning to realize that
turnoveris a sleeping giant, inconspicuouslyswallowing a significantportionof theirproductivityand profits. They are starting to examine attitudes of their
salespeoplerelative to decisions to stay with or leave
the firm. This article focuses on the differential impact of variousjob satisfactionfacets on the turnover
of low versus high performingsales personnel.

In the past few years, the relationship between job

satisfaction and employee turnover has been widely
studied in nonselling occupations, as can be seen in
the literature reviews of Bluedor (1982a), Locke
(1976), Mobleyet al. (1979, 1982a, 1982b), and Steers
and Mowday (1981). Findings of generally low, negative correlationsbetween job satisfaction and turnover have repeatedlybeen reported. Several authors
(Bluedor 1980;Forrest,Cummings,andJohnson1977;
Locke 1976; Mobley 1977; Mobley, Horer, and Hollingsworth 1978; Porterand Steers 1973; Price 1977)
have developed withdrawalmodels depicting a turnover process. Each model begins with job satisfaction
or dissatisfaction,and is followed by such steps as the
individualthinkingof quitting, intentionto search for
a new job, evaluationof job alternatives,intentionto
quit or stay, and finally the withdrawaldecision. The
withdrawaldecision is based upon cognitive and behavioralphenomenaoccurringbetween the evaluation
of the individual'sjob and his/her withdrawalbehav-

of MarProfessors
Collegeof Business
H.Mobleyfor his helpfulsuggestions,
wishto thankWilliam

Performance's Role in Turnover

Researchershave recently realized that there may be
other influences acting on the association between a
person's evaluationof a job and the decision to leave
thatjob. The limited research done on this has been

Journal of Marketing
Vol. 48 (Fall 1984), 33-40.


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in nonsellingoccupationsand has focused on whether

high or low performershave a greater propensity to
leave an organization.Furthermore,the resultsof such
studies have been mixed. While Allison (1974) and
Dreher(1982) foundthathigh performershave a greater
propensityto leave than low performers, a study by
Martin,Price, and Mueller (1981) found that low performershave a greatertendency to leave. One plausible explanationfor the conflicting findings of these
studies is a possible interactionbetween performance
and one or more of a variety of factors1that could
influencepropensityto leave. In otherwords, the conflicting findings may be due to differences in the natureof the factors interactingwith performancein the
differentstudy contexts.
The above explanation could not be verified for
the studies in question due to lack of data. Nevertheless, it offers some circumstantialsupportfor the hypothesisthatthe relationshipbetweenjob relatedvariables and propensityto leave may be moderated by
a conceptualturnovermodel
Mowday (1981) explicitly hypothesized an interaction between job attitudes and
performancein determiningpropensityto leave. Empiricalresearchinvolving performanceas an antecedent of propensityto leave, let alone performanceas a
moderator,is nonexistentin the sales force literature.
But a recent study reportedin the psychology literaturefound empiricalsupportfor the moderatingeffect
of performanceon the relationshipbetween job satisfaction and turnoverfor a sample of hospital workers (Spencer and Steers 1981):
The results of this study have implications for research on turnover, in that they point to the importance of investigating two forms of turnover-turnover of effective employees and turnoverof ineffective
employees. Differential predictions of each form of
turnover should help us to better understand which
factors influence each form of withdrawal. This study
indicates, for example, that satisfaction with the job
may have a greater influence on the decision to remain for poorly rated performersthan for highly rated
performers (p. 514).

In the salesforce area, while a few recent studies

have examined the association between job satisfaction and propensityto leave (e.g., Parasuramanand
Futrell 1983), the impact of performanceon such an
associationhas been totally ignored. This lack of research, coupled with the evidence indicatingthat performance is an importantmoderatorof the relationship between job satisfactionand propensityto leave
in nonselling occupations, promptedthe research reportedin this article.
'Fora discussionof such factors,see Porterand Steers(1973).

Research Hypothesis
The purpose of this study was to test the following
hypothesis in a salesforce context:
Performancewill have a significant moderating effect on the relationship between job
satisfaction and propensity to leave. Specifically, the sensitivity of propensityto leave to
job satisfactionwill be significantlyhigher for
low performersthan for high performers.
This hypothesis is consistent with the discussion presented earlier, especially the empiricalfindings of the
Spencer and Steers study (1981). Furthermore,such
a hypothesisis quite plausible in a salesforce context.
When a salesperson performs poorly on the job,
we would expect the sales manager to make few attemptsto keep the employee. In fact, pressuresto increase performancemay result in continuousnegative
feedback and even disciplinaryaction, such as being
given a probationaryperiod to improve performance.
The salespersonwould have little reasonto stay unless
he/she was satisfied with the job, and liked the work
itself and his/her co-workers. Should this be the case,
we could expect an inverse relationshipbetween job
satisfactionand turnoverof low performers.
Inabilityto find anotherjob is anotherreason why
a low performermight not quit a job. Nevertheless,
pressuresto improve work performanceshould force
the employee to continue searchingfor a new job, and
hence propensityto leave could still be high, unless
job satisfactionis also high. For the salesperson performing above average, the individual's sales manager is likely to provide positive feedback and strive
to acknowledgejob performancethrough pay raises,
praise, recognition in front of peers, etc. Hence, for
the high performingsalesperson,job satisfactionmay
be relatively less importantin a decision to stay or
leave the job. The employee would experiencenumerous motivationsto stay on the job, with job satisfaction being only one of them. The association of job
satisfactionwith propensityto leave can be expected
to be much strongerfor low performersthan for high

Research Method
Study Sample
The total salesforce and the salespeople's immediate
supervisors in a national pharmaceuticalfirm were
surveyedby the use of two mail questionnaires.The
salespeople were sent one questionnaireto measure
theirjob satisfaction and propensity to leave. Supervisors were sent a different questionnairethat asked
them to evaluate their subordinates' job performances. The national sales managerof the cooperat-

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ing firm provided a letter encouraging the sales supervisorsto cooperatewith the study. The salespeople
and supervisorswere told that the survey was independent of their employer and were promised anonymity. The questionnaireswere numbercoded (necessary to match salespeople's replies with the
supervisors'ratings), and a follow-up postcard was
used to increasethe returnsfrom those not responding
initially. Two follow-up letters were sent to supervisors who did not respond initially.
A total of 508 salespeople and 52 sales supervisors
were polled. The final response rates were 52% and
98% respectively, and performance ratings were
availablefor all 263 salespeople who responded.Thus
the study was based on 263 sets of matched, usable
questionnaires.The respondents'ages, experience,and
educationallevels were also measured. According to
officials in the firm, these measured demographic
characteristicsof the respondentswere similar to the
characteristicsof all salespeople in their firm. It was
not possible to get measures of job satisfaction and
propensityto leave for the nonrespondents.However,
since respondents and nonrespondentswere similar
on demographiccharacteristics(age, experience, and
education), and since research has shown that such
demographiccharacteristicsare associated with job
satisfaction and propensity to leave of salespeople
and Futrell 1983), any nonresponsebias
in the predictorandcriterionvariablesused in this study
was assumed to be negligible.
Job performancewas measuredusing the 10 items
on the firm's "districtsales manager'sappraisalform"
that the company used to measure its salespeople's
performance.Sales figures were not incorporatedinto
the salespeople's performanceappraisalbecause the
organization distributed its products through drug
wholesalersand did not sell directly to its customers.
The sales supervisorsbelieved that it was difficult to
appraisea salesperson'sperformanceusing actualsales
as a primaryindicatorof job performance.
The questionnairesentto the supervisorsaskedthem
to rate each of their salespeople on a 7-point poor to
excellent scale on the following 10 factors: willingness to work hard, current general attitude, current
sales ability, planning ability, activity reporting,current overall job performance,territorycoverage, improvementin totaljob performanceover last year, human relations ability, and product knowledge. In
asked to consider the length of time each salesperson
had been with the company, so that each salesperson
would be evaluated on an equal basis.

Measurement of Job Satisfaction

The Job Descriptive Index (JDI), which used 72 descriptive adjectives relating to the worker's promo-

tion, pay, supervision,work, and co-workers,was used

to measurejob satisfactionand was chosen because it
is one of the most widely used and one of the best
presentlyavailable methods of analyzingjob satisfaction (Smith, Kendall, and Hulin 1969). The JDI scale
has been shown to have high convergentand discriminantvalidity with INDSALES, which is anotherstandard scale for measuring salespeople's satisfaction
JDI itself has recentlybeen
(Futrell1979). Furthermore,
used by other researchers to measure salespeople's
satisfaction(Churchilland Pecotich 1982).

Propensity to Leave
The immediateprecursorof actually quitting appears
to be intentionto leave. This is consistent with Fishbein's (1967) model of attitudes, intentions, and behavior,and with Locke's task motivationmodel, which
contendsthatthe individual'sintentionis the most immediate motivational determinantof choice (Locke
1968; Locke, Cartledge, and Knerr 1970). Numerous
studies have supportedthis contention by presenting
empirical evidence of a strong relationship between
intentions and withdrawal behavior (Kraut 1975;
Newman 1974; Porteret al. 1974; Porter, Crampon,
and Smith 1976; Steers 1977; Waters, Roach, and
Waters 1976).
Bluedor's (1982a) recent literaturereview cited
23 studies which reportedfinding significant positive
relationshipsbetween leaving intentions and actual
leaving behavior. Fifteen of these 23 studies allowed
the predictivepower of the intent to leave variable to
be comparedwith the predictive power of other variables. In 19 of 20 comparisonsmade in these 15 studies, intentto leave was the most accuratepredictorof
turnoverbehavior. These types of findings are even
promptingsome researchersto recommend using an
intent to leave measure, ratherthan actual staying or
leaving behavior, as a criterion variable (Coverdale
and Terborg 1980).
Propensityto leave the job was measured in this
study using the single question, "To what extent are
you presently seeking to change jobs?" Salespeople
were asked to check one of the following five responses: to no extent, to a small extent, to some extent, to a considerableextent, and to a very great extent. A single-item scale was used due to lack of any
standardmulti-item instrument,although it is recognized that a single-item scale may lead to some measurementerror. Moreover, past studies have invariably used single-item scales to measure propensityto
leave. For instance, a recent study by Busch (1980)
simply used a three-pointsingle-item scale to measure
salespeople'spropensityto leave. Thus the propensity
to leave measureused in the presentstudy was at least
as refinedas, if not betterthan, those used in previous

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Data Analysis
Althoughthe general meaning of the term moderator
variable is perhapsstraightforward,there are several
conceptual and statistical problems associated with
formal analysis of such variables (Zedeck 1971). A
numberof researchersin the organizationalbehavior
and industrialpsychology areas have discussed appropriateways for analyzing and interpretingmoderatorvariables(Arnold 1982, Guion 1976, Petersand
Champoux1979, Saunders1956, Schmidtand Hunter
1978, Zedeck 1971). More recently, a useful frameworkfor identifyingmoderatorvariablesand isolating
different types of moderating effects has also appeared in the marketingliterature(Sharma, Durand,
and Gur-Arie 1981). Since this study deals with the
moderatingeffect of performanceon the job satisfaction-propensity to leave relationship, it is important
to emphasizeat the outset that only one type of moderatingeffect was the focus of this study. Specifically,
the study examined the moderatingeffect of performanceon the form (slope) of the job satisfaction-propensity to leave relationship because the study hypothesis was concerned with the sensitivity of propensityto leave to job satisfactionfor high performers
vis-a-vis low performers.
Table 1 contains the productmoment correlations
among the study variables, as well as the reliability
coefficientsfor the variousmultipleitem scales-i.e.,
the alpha coefficients proposed by Cronbach(1951).
The high alphacoefficients demonstrategood internal
consistencyfor the various measurementscales used.
Propensityto leave has a significant, negative correlation with each of the five JDI satisfaction dimensions. The size of these correlations, although moderate, are of the same order as, or higher than, the
correlationsobtained by other researchersinvestigating the association between satisfaction and turnover

(e.g., Spencerand Steers 1981). Moreover, these correlationsare perhapsin line with what one might expect, since many factors other than satisfaction can
also affectpropensityto leave (Porterand Steers 1973).
As suggested by Sharma, Durand, and Gur-Arie
(1981), the moderatingeffect of performanceon the
form (slope) of the satisfaction-propensity to leave
relationship was examined by conducting multiple
regressionanalyses of the criterionand predictorvariables for differentsubgroupsof the sample formed on
the basis of performance.Specifically, two subgroups
were formed by an approximatemedian split of the
sample, based on the total performance scores that
ranged between 22 and 69 for the individual salespeople. The two subgroups were (a) a "low performance" group of 130 salespeople, with performance
scores ranging from 22 to 53, and (b) a "high performance" group of 133 salespeople, with performancescoresrangingfrom 54 to 69. It mustbe pointed
out that the literatureon moderatorvariablesdoes not
offer any specific guidelines regardingthe numberof
subgroupsto be formed. For instance, it is not clear
whether two subgroups would be better than three
subgroups,or vice versa. The analysis proceduresand
the resultsdiscussed here pertainto the two subgroups
identifiedearlier.However, some of the analyses were
repeatedusing a three-way split of the sample to verify the stability of the results. This will be discussed
Propensityto leave (Y) was regressed on the five
satisfactiondimensions (XI throughX5) using the following model:
Yi = ai + bliX1 + b2iX2 + b3iX3 + b4iX4 + b5iX5

where i = 1 for the high performance group and

i = 2 for the low performancegroup. The purpose of
these multiple regressions was two-fold: (1) to check
whetherthe set of regression coefficients for the low

Correlation Matrix and Alpha Reliability Coefficients for Study Variables
Correlation Matrix
Variable Names
JDI Satisfaction Measures:
Pay (X1)













Promotion (X2)
Co-workers (X3)
Work (X4)
Supervision (X5)
Propensity to leave (Y)
Performance (Z)

No. of
Scale Items










aThese correlation coefficients are not significant at p = .05; all other correlation coefficients are significant at p < .001.
bThetotal scores on these measures were multiplied by two in accordance with the instructions of JDl's developers.

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performance group was significantly different from that

for the high performance group-i.e.,
whether performance was a significant moderator of the structure
or form of the relationship between satisfaction and
propensity to leave; and (2) to identify the satisfaction
facet(s) that were most important in influencing propensity to leave in the two performance groups.

The results of the multiple regression analyses for the
total sample as well as for the two subgroups are summarized in Table 2. For the total sample, the five satisfaction dimensions together account for 27% of the
variance in propensity to leave. However, there is a
sharp difference between the high and low perforthe satmance groups in terms of R2 values-while
isfaction measures only account for about 19% of the
criterion variance in the high performance group, they
account for almost 38% of the criterion variance in
the low performance group. Furthermore, as recommended by Sharma, Durand, and Gur-Arie (1981), a
Chow test (Chow 1960) was conducted to see if the
set of coefficients in the regression for high performers was significantly different from the set of coefficients in the regression for low performers. Based on
the Chow test, the two sets of coefficients were significantly different beyond the .05 level of significance [F(5,257) = 2.40], suggesting thereby that

Independent Variable
Total Sample (n = 263)
Satisfaction with:
Pay (X,)
Promotion (X2)
Co-workers (X3)
Work (X4)
Supervision (X5)
High Performers (n = 133)
Satisfaction with:
Pay (X,)
Promotion (X2)
Co-workers (X3)
Work (X4)
Supervision (X5)
Low Performers (n = 130)
Satisfaction with:
Pay (X,)
Promotion (X2)
Co-workers (X3)
Work (X4)
Supervision (X5)

pooling the two groups is inappropriate.

The multiple regression analysis procedure outlined above was repeated, using a three-way split of
the sample. Specifically, the total sample was split
into three performance groups: (1) a low performance
group of 86 salespeople, with performance scores
ranging from 22 to 48; (2) an average performance
group of 94 salespeople, with performance scores
ranging from 49 to 57; and (3) a high performance
group of 83 salespeople, with performance scores
ranging from 58 to 69. The R2 values for these groups
were 0.391, 0.274, and 0.186, respectively. These results reinforce the earlier conclusion based on just two
groups-namely, the lower the performance level of
a group of salespeople, the more important the influence of satisfaction on their propensity to leave. Thus
the findings support the research hypothesis.
Table 2 also sheds light on the relative importance
of the various satisfaction dimensions in affecting propensity to leave in the two performance groups. For
high performers, dissatisfaction with promotion is the
only significant predictor of propensity to leave (at p
< .05). For low performers, dissatisfaction with their
work itself and with supervision are the two significant predictors; of these two, however, dissatisfaction
with work has a much higher regression coefficient
(-.050 versus -.027). Hence the work dimension is
the most important predictor of propensity to leave for
low performers.

Results of Multiple Regressions
Standard Error
Significance Level
Regression Coefficient
of "b" value
of "b"
("b" value)


.270 (p < .001)




.186 (p < .001)




.379 (p < .001)






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In summary,the multipleregressionresultsare quite

consistentwith the two key postulatesthat are implied
by the earlierdiscussionin this article:satisfactionwill
have a greaterinfluence on propensityto leave for low
performing salespeople than for high performing
salespeople;and satisfaction with such facets as promotion and praise will be most critical for high performers, while satisfaction with the work itself will
be critical for low performers.
Table 3 contains the mean satisfaction and propensity to leave scores for high and low performers.
Interestingly,the two groups are not significantly different on any of these measures, with the exception
of satisfaction with co-workers. The lack of significant difference between the high performerand low
performergroups, especially with respect to the mean
propensityto leave measure, is contraryto the findings of the studiesreportedearlier-unlike the present
study, none of them found no significant difference
between the two groups regarding their propensities
to leave. However, the absence of any significant differences in average propensity to leave between the
two groups is realistic when we consider the fact that
differentfactors may affect propensityto leave in different ways in the two groups. In other words, "compensating"effects on propensityto leave (due to differentfactorsandinfluences)can resultin no significant
differencein the overall propensityto leave of the two
Indeed, this is precisely why the findings of this
study are of significance to those interested in examining the antecedents of salesforce turnover, especially to those who may be tempted to ignore performancebecause of its apparentlack of association
with satisfaction and propensity to leave. For, although taking steps to improve salespeople's job satisfaction may ultimately result in reduced turnover,
such steps are likely to reduce the turnover of low
performersmuch more than that of high performers.
Moreover,while satisfactionwith promotion(and other

similar dimensions) is the key to reducing turnover

among high performers,satisfaction with the work itself will be crucial in determiningwhethera low performing salespersonwill leave a firm. This obviously
provides some food for serious thought.

Discussion and Implications

The results of this research have implications for researchersas well as practitioners.Researcherswho have
developed theoreticalmodels of turnoverhave not incorporatedthe worker's performancelevel into those
models. Evidence reportedhere recommends the explicit considerationof performanceas a moderatorin
conceptualizingand researchingturnoverin the sales
Job satisfaction appears to represent a more importantinfluence on the decision to leave the company
for low performerswhen compared to high performers. These results indicate the need to segment salespeople into high and low performinggroups. The possibilityof differentjob factorsinfluencingthe propensity
to leave of high versus low performersimplies that
future empirical research must focus on formulating
and testing different theoretical turnover models for
salespeople with varying performance levels. This
should aid in better understandingthe factors that influence turnover.
Froma practitioner'sstandpoint,the results of this
study would tend to question the wisdom of using any
one strategyto reduceoverallsalesforceturover. Most
sales managers perhaps attempt to reduce turnover
throughmeasures such as improving the job satisfaction of salespeople. However, this study's findings
show that such a move may not necessarily be optimum from a strategic perspective.
All sales managers have limited resources (e.g.,
budget, time) to use in operatingtheir salesforces. To
improve sales and make efficient use of limited resources, it would appearthat a sales manager should

- -

Mean Scores for High and Low Performers
High Performers

Satisfaction with:
Propensity to leave
aAllsignificancelevels are for two-tailedt-tests.


Low Performers


Sig. Level'




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implementa strategydesignedto reduceturnoveramong

high performersand dismissthe poor performers,rather
than implementingprogramsto reduce overall sales
personnelturnover. Most companies invest funds to
reduce turnoverthroughimproving working environments, work satisfaction, etc. According to our results, such measureswould have significantly less influence on the high performers than on the low
performers.However, our results also indicate that it
may be possible to differentiallyimpact the turnover
of high and low performersby emphasizing certain
facets of salespeople's satisfaction.
Let us look at a hypotheticalscenario to examine
what may happen when the sales management of a
firm strivesto reduce salespeople turnoverby increasing theirjob satisfactionacross-the-board-i.e., without segmenting salespeople into high and low performers. Let us assume that the currentturnoverrate
for the entire salesforce averages 20%, and that the
turnoverrates among the high performers and low
performersalso average 20%. In this situation, if performance acts as a moderator(as was found in the
present study), any across-the-boardstrategy to improve job satisfactionwill have a differential impact
on the turnoverrate among high performersvis-a-vis
that among low performers-we can expect the reduction in turnoverto be significantly higher in the
low performergroupthan in the high performergroup.
For instance, the average turnover rate among low
performersmay drop to 10%, while the average turnover rate among high performersmay drop only to,
say, 15%. Hence, the overall turnoverrate may drop
from the initial 20% to somewhere between 10% and
15%, and managementmay indeed achieve its objective of reducingturnover.However, the key question
here is: "Is it worth using a strategythat successfully
reduces turnover, but through letting a larger number
of low performers than high performers retain their

jobs?" The answer is not necessarily yes!

One firm that has used a form of segmentation
strategy in managing salesforce turnover is Merrill
Lynch (Bluedor 1982b). Apparentlymany salespeo-

ple deliberatelywent to work for MerrillLynch to receive their trainingand gain experience, and then left
to work with competitors. The firm developed a programaimed at identifying their most valuable brokers
insteadof attemptingto lower overall turnover.They
classified all brokers according to length of service
and performance.Once grouped, the high performing
brokers were targeted for special retention efforts.
Turnoverdroppedfrom 8% above the industry average to 11%below industryaverage.Furthermore,most
of the brokerswho quit were below average performers.
Too many sales managers may be needlessly devoting resources to their entire salesforce personnel
instead of determiningthe salespeople they want to
retainand finding out what needs to be done to retain
them. Sales organizations should begin to manage
thatimprovingthe work satisfactionof salespeoplemay
reduce turnoverof low performersbut may do little
to reduceturnoveramonghigh performers.On the other
hand, visual forms of recognition, such as promotions, awards, etc., may increase the chances of retaining high performers. More research needs to be
done to identify other factors that may be critical in
lowering turnoveramong high performing salespeople.
Replication of this study in different salesforce
settings is essential before making conclusive statementsaboutthe role of performancein turnovermodels,
especiallysince situation-specificfactors,differentfrom
those present in our study, may well influence turnover. Furthermore,it is also worthexploringthe causal
linkage, if any, between salespeople's satisfactionand
their performance.For instance, will an increase in
work satisfactionalso improvethe performanceof low
performers,in addition to significantly reducing their
propensityto leave? Although such questions could
not be examined in our study, focusing on them in
future studies can be valuable in formulating strategies for effectively managing salesforce turnover.

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