Creating winning new business strategies for your agency (featuring Shannyn Lee)

In this episode of Chats with Chip, Shannyn Lee of Win Without Pitching joins to talk about how agencies can step up their business development game.

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In this episode of Chats with Chip, Shannyn Lee of Win Without Pitching joins to talk about how agencies can step up their business development game.

Agency owners don’t need to be sales-y to generate new revenue, and Shannyn shares some of her best advice on finding the right prospects to work with you and your team.

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The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Chats with Chip. I’m your host, Chip Griffin, the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance or SAGA. And my guest today is Shannyn Lee, she is the managing director of Win Without Pitching. Welcome to the show, Shannyn.

Shannyn Lee 

Thank you, Chip. I’m happy to be here, I think we’re gonna have some good fun.

Chip Griffin 

I am certain we’re going to have some good fun. And hopefully, we’ll be able to share a few useful tidbits along the way for our listeners. But before we jump right into the conversation, why don’t you just share briefly a little bit about yourself? And when without pitching?

Shannyn Lee 

Sure, yep. Happy to. So I’m the managing director at wind without pitching. And we focus on sales training for creative professionals. And so our mission in life is to just make selling more fun, help people be more confident in the sale and provide some frameworks to really guide better conversations around talking about money and decision makers, and how can I create value for this client and tackle issues around pricing. So the whole goal is just to make it more enjoyable and let those clients of ours out there have more control in the sale?

Chip Griffin 

And, you know, I think that in the agency space in the creative world people, for the most part, not all of them, but for the most part, they view business development as more of a necessary evil than something that they are passionate about most, I think would tell you they prefer the creative side, the problem solving side, the working with clients. But it turns out, you can’t have a business without new business.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think selling is noble. And I think it’s quite fun. And I think if you approach it from the perspective of I am here to help, and I want to figure out how I can create the most value possible for you, Miss client, it completely changes your perspective on what it means to sell. Because it really becomes this idea of a conversation and not a presentation and really digging into what’s the desired future state, what’s the vision? What are we going to measure what’s most important to you? And it just unlocks a different level of sophistication and a different level of depth that you can get into with people when you approach it that way?

Chip Griffin 

Absolutely. And I think, for me, at least a lot of the clients I work with, they come to sales, thinking about it the wrong way they think about it sort of is, you know, all I gotta do sales, and they start thinking about like the car salesman or something like that, where it’s, you know, it’s really a sales process. And it’s all just designed to get you to buy no matter whether it’s a good fit or not. And really, I always tell them that the business developed, particularly the agency world is much more about matchmaking. It’s trying to figure out, Is there a fit between what the client needs and what you do? Well, and if you think about it in that way, it’s, I think, a much more natural approach for most agency leaders.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, you’re right, I wish that we could maybe that should be a goal that we replace that image of the slick car salesman with that of the expert practitioner in the sale. And really, I think people have all this baggage that they bring to it. And this idea of a bad sales situation they were in and they just kind of lump it all together. And so a lot of times, the first thing we really need to do is shift mindset and behavior and kind of understand what motivates people to go a little sideways in the sale or feel uncomfortable in the sale.

Chip Griffin 

And unfortunate, I think there are I mean, there are folks like us in the agency world who give I think bad advice when it comes to to selling and they talk about things like the one call clothes and things like that. I mean, to me that the whole concept that someone would buy an agency services off of a single call is just bonkers. So I mean to me, you should just disqualify anyone who talks about a one call close.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, it’s ludicrous. I mean, that first call always has to be in our mind about qualifying right doing that matchmaking? Is this a good fit? Should we even keep talking right, and then begins a series of two or three more conversations that really result in deciding if you’re going to work together or

Chip Griffin 

not? Right. And it’s not just it’s not just figuring out if you’re a good fit for the client, it’s figuring out if the clients a good fit for you. And I think that that most agency leaders sit there and just say, I just I need to get revenue in the door. So I’m just trying to figure out how I can sell this person what they’re looking for. But you need to figure out, are they? Are they the kind of person who’s going to be satisfied with the results that you produce? Do they work the same way you do? Do they do they think in such a way that you’ll have a good relationship between their team and your team? I mean, all these things are really important factors to consider.

Shannyn Lee 

They’re super important and you bring up such a good point that we on the agency side need to be demonstrating as much selectivity as that client is when they’re sizing us up. And we need to signal that from the beginning. I want my clients to go into those conversations and say, hey, it’s wonderful to hear from you, Miss client. I’m really excited to learn more about what’s going on. We do things A little differently. And so it’s important to us in this first conversation that we understand if we are both a good fit to work together. So I have some questions for you just like I’m sure you have some questions for me. And then we’ll decide at the end, hey, does this add up? Should we keep talking? Demonstrating selectivity is a way to gain power in the sale early and create some healthy tension, not make it difficult, but create some healthy tension to really understand if that fit exists or not?

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, and it’s, I mean, it helps make sure that you’ve got a good sales process going, right, because it’s helping to show that level of expertise and desire on your part. But it’s also useful, because the last thing you want is a pain in the butt client that unprofitable that your team hates the Jews wake up every morning, so half god, hope I don’t have to talk to them today. You know, in too many agencies are struggling with that.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, you you have to be so mindful of setting your team up for success, the team that’s going to execute and take care of that client once you win them. And so really, your job is so important in the sale, to be seen as the expert to lead in the sale, because that’s what sets your team up to do their very best work and be viewed as the expert and not the vendor. So we have to think about the whole lifecycle of the firm, right? When we’re in the sales scenario, it’s a big and important job.

Chip Griffin 

And a lot of it comes back to agency leaders not wanting to hear or say No, right? You just, I mean, it’s it’s goes with every aspect of businesses, not just in business development, it’s also in the client service side. It’s why so many agencies go way beyond their scopes, because they don’t want to have to say, No, that’s, that’s not really what you’ve already paid us for, we’re going to have to negotiate a different version of the statement of work or something like that. And so if you’re not willing to hear no or say, No, you’re gonna end up with a lot of bad client relationships.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, it’s, it’s true. And I when I was speaking earlier about motivations, it’s important, you know, to understand what motivates you to do those things in the sale? Not Want to say no. So for example, you might be somebody that’s motivated to be liked, right? You want to please everybody, you want everybody to like you. And so saying, No, is hard, because it feels like then you’re not being helpful. Or you might be somebody that has a high competitive drive, and you just want to win. And so saying, No, is not an option, because it doesn’t get you to that when. And so when you can kind of get in touch with what are my motivations that cause me to behave like this. That’s where the behavioral shift can really start and some of the deprogramming right to, like get you out of those habits and think about things a little differently the next time around in a sales conversation.

Chip Griffin 

So how do you develop those healthier habits when it comes to business development.

Shannyn Lee 

So it begins with understanding the motivators saying, let’s name it, if you’re a person that has a high affiliation score, which means you need to be liked. Let’s talk about the whys behind that, let’s kind of unpack that a little bit. And let’s recognize it and then put it aside. Okay, we’ve acknowledged it. And now let’s look at bringing some frameworks to bear that keep you focused and keep you disciplined in these conversations. So you’re not as you know, likely to fall back on bad habits. And what I mean by a framework is, for example, the qualifying conversation framework. And when we’re teaching this framework, we’re helping people to understand the five or six things they need to get done in that qualifying conversation. And we’re asking them to kind of stick to a script, not like a word for word script, but kind of a set of quadrants, right, like So first, I want to understand what that client’s desired future state is. So there’s a question to, to get to their wants beyond the need that they came to me for. And then I’m going to move over to that quadrant, where we uncover who are the decision makers involved? Who’s the team that’s going to decide on your end? And what’s the process? And once you’ve worked through that, we’re going to talk about money, right? And just get a sense of, are we on the same page with the level of investment. So there’s some things like that, that have to happen. And each of the conversations that happen in the buyers journey, qualifying value closing, and we bring these frameworks to each conversation. So it brings clarity and focus and discipline and it helps you to stay on track and not feel like each sales call is a brand new, clean slate right that you just kind of sure where to direct it towards. So those are the things that start to help shift that behavior.

Chip Griffin 

I love that you’ve framed it around conversations. Because I think I think that’s lost on a lot of people when they’re doing business development and they think through okay, here are the things that I need to do I need to to be able to qualify them but it’s not so much a conversation. It’s more of an interrogation. I need to make sure you have budget, right. I mean, I love this this fascination that agency owners have about trust. to figure out what’s the budget of the client? Yeah, it’s sort of an interesting conversation that you want to make sure that you know that someone’s not shopping for a Yugo when you’re selling a Ferrari. Sure. But beyond that, I think trying to nail people down to a particular number is nonsense, because then you come up with a solution that’s based on whatever number they throw out, because you want to win the business may not be the best solution. So So yes, make sure they’re in the same, you know, league, if you will, yes, what you’re selling, so don’t waste anyone’s time. But but don’t obsess over it. Instead, have this conversation and really try to tease out from them, what they’re looking for what you can provide.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, that’s exactly right. And you’re so spot on in that early conversation in the sale, like, let’s just get on the same page, because likely, you’re not talking with the entire team, that’s going to make the decision. And it’s also likely that it might be a middle manager gatekeeper, that isn’t, like in charge of creating future value, right. So they aren’t as apt or have the ability to understand what that means. And you want to have that investment conversation that what are the funds allocated conversation, when you’re talking with more of the senior team that’s part of, you know, charged with creating future value for the organization. That’s the more appropriate time. So you’re right, let’s just get on the same page. Let’s have a conversation, and see if this is a fit. And then let’s decide what makes sense as the next best step here.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, I think the other helpful thing about thinking of it as a conversation is it changes the dynamic because a lot of agency leaders in my experience are are itching to get out there and share their credentials deck, and go through all of their capabilities and explain to you all of these things that they can do before they even really begun to understand what your challenge is.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah. So when without pitching lands, our ideal is that you’re well positioned, which means you’ve done a good job of deciding who you help and how you help them. And it’s communicated through your website and your thought leadership so that coming into it, people have a sense of who you are and who they’re talking to. And there are some things you want to do to make sure that that flip has happened, that they see you as the expert, and don’t see you as the vendor. But quickly, you want it to be all about them. That prospect should be doing more of the talking in those early conversations, and you should be doing more of the listening.

Chip Griffin 

And that if I had one piece of advice in business development, I think what you just said is that the piece of advice I would give is shut up and listen. Yes, it’s done, you’ll be amazed at what you will learn.

Shannyn Lee 

You’re so exactly right. And that’s the whole point, if you can embrace that superpower of silence, you’re gonna learn so much. It’s incredible, right? And the minute you start talking, is when you give concessions or start filling the void with unneeded stuff, right? That’s just like, shuts everybody down on the other end of the line.

Chip Griffin 

Right. And it’s just I think that for whatever reason, agency folks are conditioned to think, Okay, I’ve got to show you my capabilities deck, and then I’ve got to, once I’m done with that, then I’ll give you a proposal. And then we’ll negotiate the contract after that. And that’s not the way that this should go at all. And that’s that’s one of the many things I love about the wind without pitching manifesto, which, by the way, is an excellent book. And if you haven’t read it yet, you should read it.

Shannyn Lee 

Thanks for that. You’re welcome.

Chip Griffin 

And that’s not just because I mean, this is actually a book that I’ve had on my shelf for many years. And I’ve read many times, because, I mean, there’s a lot of good concepts in there. And I think that, that it’s really about helping to reset your mind about how you go about business development. And it’s so valuable for agency folks so that they don’t get trapped in this, this method madness of just, you know, checking each little box and assuming that if I, if I check the capabilities box, and I do the proposal, and I do all these things, all of a sudden business is going to come in, it’s not.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, I think that we lose ourselves in these sales conversations and go into sales robot mode, and it feels yucky and dismal. And it feels like a vendor, when in fact, the audience we’re speaking to has the most amazing set of superpowers, I think in the world, and they come at it with so much empathy, and was such a desire to help and if we can release that sales robot mode and show up as ourselves and let people see right, who we are and what we have to bring to the challenge and just have that conversation like we’re talking about, that’s when it becomes so much more fun. And that’s when the real wins happen for what you’re able to unlock in terms of how you might be able to solve these challenges these clients are up against, they come to us equally as nervous because they got a big mandate sitting on their desk that they have to fulfill for their organization and they need that expert to be their ally and to reassure and to help.

Chip Griffin 

Right and I think we lose that too because we have To remember that that business development is not between two logos. It’s between the people on each side. And so you need to understand the motivations not just of the client organization, but your actual client contact, who the decision makers are who the people you’re working with every day, and what’s motivating them. And I mean, I have a particular example that I remember from an agency I was working with a number of years ago. And they were they were producing results, the team was saying, on the client side, this is great. Then they got to the review at the quarterly mark with the senior executive who hated the work. And it turned out that the reason why was because that senior exec was being bonused, based on some of the data being produced by the agency, the agency didn’t realize it, and it wasn’t going to help this executive get their bonus. If you tease that out earlier in the relationship, I’m not saying you want to manufacture incorrect data, but you can at least think about how you’re going about it to drive towards that objective, or say, hey, we can’t do that, right? I know, this is what you’re expecting, we can’t actually do that and be successful.

Shannyn Lee 

So we have this thing called the magic question. Dan Sullivan, the founder of Strategic Coach created this question. And we ask everybody to ask this question in the first qualifying conversation, and I asked it in all of my qualifying conversations as well. The question is, you and I are sitting down three years from today, and you’re really happy. What’s happened in those three years to make you so happy? The reason for that question is to allow somebody to vision and to think about the future. And they’re likely going to start out talking about the organization’s goals and desires, but they will begin to bring their own desires and goals and, and hopes into the into the equation when they’re answering that question. And if they don’t, then it is to your point ship, like, we have this opening to say, this is fantastic. Thank you for sharing your vision, I have a better sense of why, you know, you came to me, maybe it was for a website. But what you really need is something beyond that to achieve this vision. Are you willing to share like, personally? What’s in it for you? Right? Or what’s important to you in this vision? And that’s when you may learn those things like Well, honestly, I want to move up in the organization, or I have a bonus tied to the outcome of this initiative. Okay, fantastic. Let’s talk about that. Right. So there’s these emotional contributions to value that we want to uncover as well. And we have to be delicate, right? When you’re talking about people’s personal wants and goals. But it is so important to get to that because that’s, that’s exactly why you’re there to help. Right. And you may, in fact, be very well equipped to really help them achieve that that vision and get their bonus, get their promotion, get that mainstage talk that they’ve been hoping for it the big marquee conference every year. There’s a lot we can do. You know,

Chip Griffin 

I think the other thing is to ask them questions about what are their past experiences in that area. So either agencies like yours, or work that they’ve done in house that similar to what what you would be doing, because that helps you understand, you know, what some of their pressure points are, what they things that may be, should be red flags for you, right? I mean, if they’ve gone through three agencies in three years, dig a little deeper, to find out why that has happened. And you know, maybe you still want to take on the business. But maybe you’re anticipating this is going to be a one year relationship. And so you can plan accordingly.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, that’s smart, right? Like trying to figure out if this fails, why? Let’s dig into that for a minute. Right? If if we get to the end of this, and the CEO isn’t happy? Why. So looking at that post mortem set of questions is so important.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. And success is important to him. And I know I’ve dwelled on the negative there, but the, you know, understanding done in the past that was successful, because that’s what you’re gonna be measured against. Right? Yep. So, you know, if they had a Superbowl ad that you know, that that knocked it out of the park in the past, and they love that, well, first of all, why are they looking for a new agency, but we’ll set that but but but assuming they’ve got something like that now, this is the yardstick you’re being measured against? Can you live up to that expectation? Or not? And and if not, then at least make sure that they are clear that that’s that bar is is not a realistic one that they just, you know, caught lightning in a bottle.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, exactly. Yep. Setting expectations. Yep.

Chip Griffin 

So now, you said something important a little bit ago about positioning and expertise. And I think this is, this is really critical to how agencies can do a better job of selling without feeling like they need to be selling. Right. And it’s something that I think a lot of agencies don’t get right for one reason or another. There may be, you know, when they hear positioning, you know, they think of these things where you’re supposed to niche down and, and so all of a sudden, now I’ve got, I’ve got so small an audience, I have taken off prospects off the table, I’m fighting to get a big enough pipeline as it is, you know, expertise. I don’t I barely have enough time to service my own clients, let alone be out there and doing thought leadership and things like that. So, you know, how do you address some of those concerns that the agency folks have when you talk about about positioning and expertise.

Shannyn Lee 

So the fear of niching down or specializing is, it has a lot to do a sacrifice, right and fear of missing out. And really, what we want people to be thinking about is this idea of like competence and deep competence in an area of expertise. And it doesn’t mean you have to go so narrow, that you’re really walking away from a viable market, we still want it to be a viable market that you go after. But we want you to feel like you can pick the phone up and say, Hey, this is who I am, these are the problems we solve. We’re better at it than anybody and be really specific and have a wedge to get in the door with that may, in fact, turn into a broader conversation. But you need to be seen as meaningfully different. And that happens through the act of specializing. But specializing could mean a vertical, right specializing could mean and demographics specializing could mean anything from like, lifestyle, or perspective, like there’s a lot of ways to specialize. So it doesn’t, it doesn’t equate to walking away from work and leaving work on the table, it really allows you to be seen as meaningfully different to have more power in the sale to do better work to charge what you’re worth. And to have a targeting exercise that feels a lot easier. You know exactly who you want to go after and what you’re going to say and you’ll be heard on a different level. And when it comes to producing thought leadership, that should become easier to because it should become clear, the many things you know about that you can be producing thought leadership around, versus stabbing in the dark at a lot of more generalized topics.

Chip Griffin 

Right, and I think so on niching down, I think that the the fear is you say as unfounded, right, I mean, that if you develop this, this specialty, this expertise, it actually makes it easier, not harder. I think that part of it is just that the terminology scares people off. So I always like to try to talk about finding focus, because you make a great point that it doesn’t have to be about just an industry vertical, which is the first thing everybody thinks of Oh, wow, I want to just do work for automakers the rest of my life, you know, you don’t have to. And and again, going back to the whole notion of that it’s not two logos working with each other, it’s two people, part of finding focus can be the kind of people that you’re working with at your client. Right? That’s, that, to me, is a critical component. Do you work better with a first time CMO or an experienced one? Do you work better with a client who has worked with agencies before? Or you’re their first agency that, you know, where are they in their lifecycle, their growth cycle, all of those things are components, I think of defining your ideal client in such a way that you’ve got some focus, and you’ve got some direction, so that you can develop that expertise.

Shannyn Lee 

Yeah, exactly. It’s it’s really about, you know, who do you want to show up and help each day? And when you’re in these conversations, do you want to have to battle to go into convince mode to really convinced somebody, you’re the best for the job? Or do you want to be able to say, look, this is our ideology? This is how we think about things. Let me first Have you read our hero piece without pitching manifesto, for example. And if you’re on board with our ideology, let’s keep talking. If not, that’s okay. It just means we’re not a fit to work together. I want clients to be selected for those sorts of things, not because of culture fit, or because I did a good job convincing you of something, you want to go in and feel deeply sought after for that expertise that you have that it’s hard to find elsewhere.

Chip Griffin 

So this notion of being helpful, I think, is an important one. So I’d like to tease that out a little bit more. And I think that when people hear things like thought leadership, and you know, to demonstrate their expertise, they think I need to think these big thoughts, and I need to, you know, I need to have some unique take. And and I don’t think that’s correct. But I’m interested in your take on that is that if you’re creating content, if you are working with prospects and being helpful, is that enough? Or do you really have to sort of, you know, plant a flag and say that there’s a whole new way of doing it.

Shannyn Lee 

I think that it’s more about when we think about a whole new way of doing it. I think that’s a tall order, right? I think that the way you want to think about it, and I’ll give you the story of an example of a client that I have, he runs a public relations firm out of New Orleans and his expertise is doing business in the Gulf South. He knows the Gulf South better than anybody and he’s born and raised there. He’s been through all of the traumatic, you know, hurricanes and weather events and chose to stay and he has the ability to talk about how people move about their day and make decisions in the Gulf South. So if you’re somebody who wants to do business in the Gulf South, or you’re here and you want to increase your footprint, you’re dealing with public relations challenges, go to him right because he’s going to understand what the day to day is like on the ground and so when he thinks about creating thought leadership, it’s a lot of storytelling, right? We needed this initiative passed in this parish. And so what did we have to do to work with the city council there and bring consensus amongst the neighborhoods, to really get this past to do whatever we needed to do help the schools or whatever it was. So it’s not that we’re inventing a new way of doing something, it’s that we’re deeply expert in a market like the Gulf South, and so we can help you move and operate and be seen with credibility, right? That’s the kind of thought leadership we’re talking about developing. And sure, maybe you have a new novel idea to Account Based Marketing or something like that, I don’t know. But it’s really more about what do we do day to day to get this work done at the highest level and bring the most value. And then maybe, sure, there’s some thought leadership that sees you kind of ranting and raving or tackling bigger topics, but it’s more about, like the day to day you’re doing to get the results for your clients and, and your lens that you look through that helps you deliver on that.

Chip Griffin 

Right. And, and I think, you know, the notion of being able to share that expertise and be helpful, that should come relatively easily to most agency leaders, right, because you’re just talking about the stuff you already know. I mean, it’s the kind of stuff that if you were talking with another agency owner, you would just you know, you just fall right into the groove and you start talking about you don’t, you don’t have to put on some, you know, false persona, you don’t have to develop, you know, some whole brand new way of thinking you just need to be helpful and sharing what you already know, and the things that you already like to talk about.

Shannyn Lee 

Yep, you know, your clients challenges, you see the common problems, you know, what the patterns are right? Like, and you know, how to tackle those and overcome them. That’s what we’re talking about. That’s what you want to be out there sharing and discussing.

Chip Griffin 

Right? So if I’m an agency owner, and I’m struggling with business development, and trying to think about how I get out of my rut, right, maybe I’m, I’m generating an okay amount of business, but I really want to grow, you know, what are the what are the key things that that you would say that they should focus on first, in, you know, breaking out of that rut?

Shannyn Lee 

I think first you have to take a look at positioning. And positioning in our mind is fundamental business strategy. It’s not like a linguistics exercise. So you really have to take a look at what are you deeply expert in? And are you too generalized, right? Are you too much of a general firm, and that’s causing a challenge for you in the sale? That you’re not winning? Because you’re just not seen as meaningfully different? So start by taking a look at positioning. Next, how are you marketing yourself? Are you proactive? And are you consistent and getting the good word out about the work that you do? That’s sometimes part of the equation, like you’re just not talking to enough people or talking to them consistently. So that might mean building more of a following. And then the other thing that comes up is just behavior in the sale. And having an understanding of showing up in the sale, and being that expert in guiding the conversations, like we’ve been talking about what you need to get through to decide, Is there a fit? And what can we do and what’s important to measure? So, you know, when people come to us, it’s like, in one of those three areas, there’s a positioning challenge, there’s a sales process challenge, or maybe there’s a marketing challenge. So it’s, it’s kind of identifying what are the challenges, and maybe they’re all three, that’s okay. But like, let’s start with the one that’s gonna set us up for success and the other two, and a lot of times that’s positioning.

Chip Griffin 

I think that’s, I mean, you’ve offered tons of great advice over the last 30 minutes. But I think in particular, you know, those are sort of nuggets to take away at the end are particularly helpful. But if someone would like to learn more about when, without pitching or, and how you can be helpful to them as they continue on this business development journey, where can they find you?

Shannyn Lee 

The best place to go is our website, when without pitching.com. And you can dig into thought leadership, you can dig into different product offer offerings, and there’s lots of ways to connect with us through the website. So I would go there first,

Chip Griffin 

I would absolutely encourage that. And as I said earlier, I would encourage you to read the book as well, because there is so much there. And I think that the whole idea of just changing the mindset around business development is so valuable. And so Shannon, I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken today to share some of your insights with other agency leaders. And I look forward to continuing the conversations with you in the months and years ahead.

Shannyn Lee 

Thanks, Chip. It was great to be with you today. Thanks for having me on.

Chip Griffin 

And thank you all for listening, and I will have you all back here next week.