Travelpayouts Blog

Meet our team: Nikolay Lazarev, business development manager

Updated:
Reading time:  9  min.
80
0

At Travelpayouts, Nikolay is on a mission to attract foreign affiliates. Within almost two years, he has built a methodology for working with big American bloggers with his team. In this interview, Nikolay shares his experience of affiliate search, work automation, solving difficulties in negotiations, and, as a bonus, talks about fighting for “a place in the sun” four times at a car wash in the suburbs of London.

My role at Travelpayouts

  • There are now four people in the business development team, including our head, Tanya Buyanova. Sergey Pitinov and I attract new affiliates, and Katya Zabolotnaya attracts new advertisers. I was invited to join the team to connect foreign affiliates, which is our main focus right now. 
  • My team and I are interested in American bloggers who publish original texts about personal experiences, travel tips, saving opportunities, and unusual spots. 
  • When I just came in, this was completely new territory. We had no idea how to approach these people and what value we could offer them. Within almost two years of my work at Travelpayouts, we now have a clear understanding of this niche and our expertise is growing every day. I do my best to partner up with as many target bloggers as possible and motivate them to use and promote our tools. 
  • We were able to connect bloggers with a large audience who hadn’t even looked in our direction before.
  • We don’t have any strict selection criteria. The main thing we look for is original travel-related content. Internally we have defined the following criteria: a blogger has to have more than 5,000 unique users in three months. We check this analytics with SimilarWeb. During the pandemic everybody, including big bloggers, had a drop in traffic. We tried to help absolutely everyone, regardless of the size of the blogger’s audience. If a blogger contacts us directly, we always lend a helping hand. 

About finding affiliates

  • The most effective way to find bloggers is through search engines. First, we used to manually look at bloggers’ sites, analyze their audience, and draw conclusions about how interesting we might be to them. Then we wrote and offered our product. But not everyone was interested. There were already a lot of products on the American market, and we did not really stand out. At first it was more like “breaking a fly on the wheel”.
  • At some point we decided to narrow the focus and look for destinations that were open even at times of pandemic, for instance, UAE. We collected a list of places that were open for tours through GetYourGuide. Then we looked for people who wrote about those places. In other words, we started collecting keywords. That is, we manually typed in keywords in English, for example, “the mosque of Sheikh Zayd” + “travel-blog”, and we were given the most relevant sites. Then we looked at whether the sites had partner tool integrations. Based on this, we collected target contact information.
  • We also looked for bloggers using specific keywords. I believe it’s no secret that the more detailed the approach, the better the results. Here, it’s the same. After modifying our approach a little bit, we started to receive more relevant websites which we then analyzed for affiliate tools. In this way, we managed to find partners who were highly interested to work with us. We also helped them monetize travel content with relevant ads from our advertisers, which is a win-win.
  • Apart from searching for leads on the internet, there are also dedicated conferences for travel bloggers, and we were supposed to visit one such event in Italy in March 2020, but it was postponed because of the pandemic. However, it’s possible to connect with participants online, for instance, we are still in touch with one great blogger from that conference.

About the approach

  • Over time, we optimized the mailing list and the search for contacts. With the help of Sergey Pitinov, we made an automatic parser. We simply upload keywords so that the program can collect and analyze sites using machine learning. By doing so we can see with 90-95% accuracy if the site is a travel blog, and whether there are already any affiliate links.
  • Then the program unloads all the sites into the Google Sheet. And only then do we manually look through all these filters and remove the unnecessary data. We are left with a list of sites that are of interest to us. In the end, the bulk of the work is done by the program, and all we have to do is find the contact information and send out emails.
  • We started writing very personalized emails. To give you an idea, we used to write something like “Hi! I like your blog. Sign up for our system.” Soon after, we took a more customer-centric approach and tried to convey that we found a specific article in which we suggested placing particular tools of our network and provided bloggers with various calls to action to encourage them to act.
  • On average, we send two emails to each person. If they don’t answer the first one, we send a second email three days later. At some point we tested three letters, but it did not bring any results. Some people register after getting the first email, but more people sign up after the second one. 
  • We get 15 registrations out of 100 emails sent, which is a pretty good result. But it also happens that out of 100 letters sent, no one registers. So far we haven’t figured out what factors influence this. 
  • In February 2021, my newsletter was opened by 40% of recipients, and in March, already by 80%. But in February I received 50% of responses and in March, only 15%. In the end, that’s about the same number of people in each month in total. 
  • I find about 10-15 suitable blogs a day and send them offers right away.

About finding contacts

  • As for travel-bloggers, more often than not we rely entirely on various browser extensions to look for contacts. For example, snov.io has a convenient paid plan that can verify emails in case they turn out to be invalid.
  • In other cases, we write requests through site forms or send direct messages on socials.

About difficulties

  • The process of hunching and connecting is one thing. But there is also the next step: to make webmasters work. The fact that they registered absolutely does not mean anything. We need to encourage affiliates to install our tools. 
  • The first option is to invite them for a personal account demo, which will help them get started faster. The second option—for big bloggers with good traffic—we offer our consulting. That is, we do an analysis of their site and posts, and for each post we manually select affiliate programs that will work well. Many different programs can be selected for each article. We choose programs, make affiliate links and send them a ready file with all the links. Affiliates just need to place them on their sites. Some do, some don’t, but this methodology pays off. I can see it in the reaction of webmasters. 
  • Once I made contact with a cool big blogger (500-600k unique users daily) and he was already in the last stage of connecting, but suddenly he read some bad reviews about us on Trustpilot. The most frustrating part is that those two reviews were from people who violated our rules. That was a year ago. But just recently he worked with us, and we already have some agreements that we’re going to work with him in the future. We were able to change his mind, and it’s a really cool experience.
  • There are quite a few things that can be changed inside the company. We need to connect to bigger brands, for instance, VRBO (an alternative to Airbnb), which one big blogger flocked to, although we had a great relationship with. If we had a partnership with that brand, we wouldn’t have lost such a big webmaster.
  • When I had just joined Travelpayouts, there were no KPIs, because this was a completely new market, and it was unclear how to work with it. At some point we started to think about KPIs, which would be made up of different parameters. We decided that the most important parameter to look at was Lifetime Value. But so far, it’s all very uncertain. 

About demo webinars

  • We offer a demo webinar to all users who registered with us in the last two weeks. In this live session followed by Q&A, we talk about how to use the interface and how to implement the tools on the site.
  • This session is aimed at newbies who have never worked in affiliate marketing. I talk about what Travelpayouts is and what affiliate marketing looks like. After that, we move on to examples of blogs partnering with us and making money. I try to motivate beginners by sharing that they can start earning income like that as well. After that, I explain how to work with their personal account. How to insert links into the site and what is the logic behind it, etc. Some people send me emails right after the session with questions. 

About market differences

  • We mostly write to American bloggers, while there are fewer European bloggers. 
  • Some bloggers are repelled by the fact that we are based in Russia. For them, it is a certain indicator based on stereotypes.

About colleagues

  • After the interview with Tanya, our supervisor, I was told that I would have to move to Saint-Petersburg. And I have quite an interesting history with this city. When I studied in England I really wanted to move to Saint-Petersburg, thinking that after the English climate it would be a piece of cake for me. But the first time I came, after graduating from university, I was only able to live there for three months. I decided to try the second time already with Travelpayouts. I lived there during the nastiest time (from September to May), when it was always twilight and raining. And in the spring the pandemic began, and I returned to Chelyabinsk, where I now work remotely.
  • All of my closest colleagues inspire me in some way. I always looked up to the way Tanya and Sergey presented projects. I also like Sergey’s ability to optimize all processes. He tries to scale everything and does things super fast. Without him, I probably would never have approached all the processes in an automated way.
  • My first demo, in which we share the results of the team’s work, went horrible. I was very nervous and made a lot of mistakes. As time passed, I gained inner confidence and an understanding of how to prepare. Tanya certainly helped me a lot in this.

About personal qualities of a business development manager

  • I don’t think that my work at the moment requires me to be an extrovert all the time, except for some moments, for example, when I need to approach someone at a conference, which I am quite comfortable with. It is much more important to take an active life stance and try to find non-trivial ways of solving problems. 
  • My approach is that each stage of the job is a challenge, and I enjoy overcoming every obstacle.
  • I would definitely pump up my public speaking skills, and I’m also actively working on my English, building up my vocabulary. That’s what really drives me. Another point that I quite often neglect is delegation. For example, I clearly understand that I’m not a technician and sometimes it is better not to take care of something myself but to ask an expert. In other words, you don’t need to pretend to be a walking encyclopedia, just know how to find the information.
  • The fact that we are working on a completely new market really inspires me. I get a kick out of dealing with unpredictability. 
  • I’m very energized when I have calls in English as I get to practice the language. Getting people registered after sending them emails is also really rewarding. In general, I don’t do the same activity all day long.
  • I’m not an advocate of lying for my own benefit. It’s easier for me to be upfront with an affiliate and get fewer results, but of higher quality, than, say, gather a bunch of leads, promise them the world, upset them only to discover that they’ve gone to feedback sites and written about how shitty we are.

Let’s get personal

  • I studied in England and lived in Hatfield, which is a half-hour to an hour’s drive from London. It’s a university town, where there’s basically nothing but a university, a mall, and cottages where pensioners live. It was pretty difficult to find a job, plus I’m not a native. I had a hard time getting a job at a car wash, where I was fired four times and got hired back four times. It’s funny, but I managed to win my place in the sun at the car wash every time. 
  • I also worked in the city of London. I used to walk around the London offices with a cart and sell brownies. To get attention and sell more brownies, I had to shout out to the whole office. That was my first cold sales experience. And in a way, it sharpened my business development skills.
  • If it weren’t for the pandemic, the first thing I’d do is go to a professional conference, I’m not that much of a traveler.
  • Probably the thing that had the biggest impact on me was the experience I had when I went to study in another country at the age of 16, and I went from being a kid to a person who could make decisions on their own.
  • Lately I’ve been reading Henri Charriere’s “The Moth” and Michael Creighton’s “Airframe” about a plane crash. I’m aerophobic, and I prefer to look fear straight in the eye.
  • 3 favorite tracks that I would play at a corporate party:
    • Machine Gun Kelly – All I know
    • Machine Gun Kelly – Kiss Kiss
    • Halsey – Nightmare
  • 10 years from now, I see myself being intelligent and leading a happy and adventurous life.

Short-quiz

Working from home or at the office?

  • From home

Working together in a team or independently?

  • Working independently

Mountains or sea?

  • Sea

A glass of wine or a cup of tea/coffee?

  • A cup of tea

A kindle or a paper book?

  • A kindle

Netflix and chill or a night-long party?

  • Netflix

Stability or freedom?

  • Freedom