Travelpayouts Blog

Meet our team: Sergey Pitinov, business development manager

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In the past, Sergey used to sell gadgets that help with passing the exams, which was a successful venture, and he is now in charge of attracting affiliates to Travelpayouts. Sergey told us how to access foreign markets, write personal letters for mass mailings, know the salesman’s mission, understand probability theory and ex-president Yeltsin.

Before Travelpayouts

  • Mom likes to remind me that in my childhood I dreamed of becoming either Yeltsin or a guy named Zabara, the head of the district in the village we lived in. I don’t know where my dream came from, maybe I just wanted to be a leader.
  • In high school, I was a maximalist. I wanted everything at once. For example, I wanted to go to either Moscow State University or Moscow State Institute of International Relations. As a result, I didn’t go anywhere, stayed in my home city of Belgorod and studied at university there for the next five years.
  • I graduated from two universities – Belgorod State University (as a teacher of English and German) and the Higher School of Management of Saint Petersburg State University.
  • Ever since I can remember, I was always trying new ways to make money. I wrote theses for other students in my first year, then sold second-hand iPhones that I brought from Moscow to Belgorod and resold “duty-free” alcohol. But, my business with headphones for cheating on exams was a real “gold mine” and my first serious sales experience. I also provided great conditions for customers. They could test headphones or even return them. I had a lot of customers and great reviews–anyone could pass exams with these headphones. I was making a lot of money.

My role at Travelpayouts

  • I’ve tried to explain to my grandfather what I do for a long time. I used an example of a newspaper that sells ad space. We sell the advertisement, so we contact newspapers and sell these ads. And anyone who makes a purchase, receives a commission. I search for newspapers and agree on publications.
  • Affiliate program development is our main priority now. We have already occupied the travel market in Russia, and everyone knows about Travelpayouts. Now we want to conquer new market territories, and the United States is priority number one because of high commissions and corresponding level of income. That’s why I am looking for foreign traffic. I write to bloggers and content projects and incentivize them to gain traffic with our banners, widgets and affiliate links.
  • In addition, it takes about 40% of my working time to communicate with banks in order to create loyalty programs. I am now negotiating with several Kazakh banks, which are hot leads, because it is better to close the deal faster. All banks want loyal customers and can incentivize them with cashback on purchases. This referral commission, which is usually sent to the affiliate (in this case to the bank), returns back to the client and as a cashback on purchase or a discount, in some sense.

Now our team consists of four business development managers: Nikolai Lazarev, Katia Zabolotnaya, Tanya Buyanova and me. Responsibilities are divided simply: Nikolai and I focus on affiliates, while Katia works with advertisers. Nikolai and I look for a place, and Katia looks for products to place. We connect affiliates and advertisers, and account managers handle them from there. Tanya has more managerial responsibilities, as she runs business development and account management teams.

Work process

  • We have a number of ways to look for partners. We identify relevant keywords such as “hotels” or “hostels” and google them. Or we do it with the help of SimilarWeb: this platform shows the website’s ranking for the keywords in question. Then we look through all these websites and manually check whether they contain tools. Finally, we choose affiliate programs that we can offer and send emails to site owners.
  • The paid browser extension Snov.io allows you to search emails by domain name. We create email databases and a sequence of emails on MixMax. It is very difficult to manually send each contact numerous letters, and usually nobody answers us the first time. That is why we make sequence of emails and automate their sending. Every email has various parameters: name, company name, website name and personal data about the recipient. These are pseudo-personal mailings that can be customized. I try to write and add more personalization to every email so that it doesn’t look like spam. For example, I would find a joke that my recipient published on Twitter and tell him how cool it was. This approach catches attention and encourages the other person to answer.
  • This is how we choose potential partners: They should have a content travel project with more than 5,000 unique visitors per month, targeted traffic, higher conversion and be ready to publish our links.
  • More traffic means income diversification, so that income does not come from our market. The more traffic a blogger has, the more favorable conditions we can offer. For instance, the advertiser pays a 6% commission of the booking cost. For blogs with higher traffic, we can negotiate a 7% rate due to a bigger volume. As a result, we economize thanks to our scale.
  • On average, I attract about 15 affiliate projects per month. Some negotiations can last for a year, so it can take time in some cases. It might not be correct to measure affiliates by their number, because the volume of attracted traffic is more important. For a long time I have been negotiating five strategically important projects that should drive a huge amount of traffic.
  • The most interesting projects feature an established customer base. We collaborate with mobile operators and banks in Russia and the CIS by helping them build travel loyalty programs. We also work closely with airports. We recently we’ve added the Voronezh airport to our partner list, and now I am negotiating with some others. We also cooperate with internet companies like Vivaldi browser for example.
  • We work actively with many other networks. Usually, we resell them affiliate programs, but can also connect their advertisers. Each network has its own specifics, which is why we cannot work with everybody, so we represent ourselves as a travel affiliate network from the very beginning. We abide by the law here, and it’s great.

About conferences

  • As for the Russian market, I attend affiliate and travel conferences. You can meet some strange characters there, including representatives of online casinos, fan products and more. We’ve decided that such events are more about gaining industry insights rather than finding partners, as people pursue other goals there, and we are hardly interesting to them. On the other hand, Russia bans online casinos on a daily basis, and such businesses have to create a new one every day. In theory, the idea of creating your own travel website can be relevant for many people. 
  • In September, I went on my first business trip abroad to a digital marketing exposition, DMEXCO in Cologne.

About sales

  • The only scientifically-based methodology to teach sales that I know of is SPIN selling, which is based on open questions and the identification of client needs. The mission of the “partner manager” is not to make clients buy something, but rather to identify their needs and show how the company can satisfy them. We don’t often realize why we might need a certain product, and a good business development manager must show how this product can make our life better.

Work environment

  • I found this job online, sent my CV and after quite a long time received a test task. I was asked to find websites in Argentina to place our tools on, although we have not collaborated actively with this region yet.
  • My first acquaintance with the team began before I actually joined it. A few days before I had to start work, Liza Rudykh wrote to me: “Sergey, there is a dress code in the company, and you need to wear a suit on your first day.” I decided to play along and asked if I could bring something sweet. Liza agreed, and I promised to bring a carrot cake because I was vegan. As it turned out, the girls had a bet as to whether or not I was a funny guy. I showed up without a suit and carrot cake, and Liza lost about $16.
  • During our first team call, my workplace had the Lakhta Center behind me. And the guys asked in the chat, “Who’s the man in front of Sauron’s Tower?”
  • My favorite tradition is writing inappropriate poems in a general chat when someone leaves their workspace without locking their computer, and then tag everybody. I like this kind of fun. Our team has a tough sense of humor in general.
  • In my opinion, teamwork is more convenient – an outside perspective always helps to insulate yourself from some internal prejudices. And technical things as well, for example, you can not have a brainstorming session alone. Anyway, two minds are always better than one. Besides, why do people group in society? It is more efficient.
  • I could call it a “dream job” only if I was doing everything right. I’m a little bit stressed now because some things are still hard for me. I want more integration, and sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me. But then I get myself together and work harder. Creativity, a great technical side and cool business trips are big advantages of Travelpayouts, which I like a lot.
  • I’d like to give working in Phuket a try, because I am sick and tired of Saint Petersburg’s filthy weather.

About motivation

  • My grandfather always helps me; perhaps he is my role model. He always says, “You are a young specialist, work hard and everything will turn out just fine.” Indeed, at first you should temper your enthusiasm, just work and show discipline. Also, I remember one professional poker player telling me that probability theory runs everything in the world: if I lose now, I’ll win later, as this probability theory distributes things evenly.

Things I’d like to change

  • One troublesome issue at Travelpayouts is a gap between us and the developers, who are always very busy. This gap delays the solution of technical problems that we can not implement ourselves. It would help a lot if technical and business offices could communicate faster.
  • Personally, I have problems with prioritization, and to overcome this, I use Trello software to set priorities. Also, I am not always good at controlling the deals under implementation. Integration can be very difficult, and it requires a lot of work both on our part and on our partner’s. People can delay processes and break deadlines, which is hard to monitor. I want to eliminate this issue.

Let’s get personal

  • A long time ago, I decided to travel all over the Eastern CIS. My mother is Bashkir, and I am partially Eastern as well. I would go to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, but Sweden and Germany are first on my list.
  • Among my recently read books I can highlight a fiction book “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoi and a nonfiction “Incomprehensible art” by Gompertz.
  • The three favorite songs I would put on a corporate party:
    Stigmata – September
    Boombox – Ta chto
    Face – Burger

Future plans

  • In 10 years, I would like to be described by three words: the first – successful, the second – businessman, and the third – activist. The last one means to earn not just for myself, but also to contribute to the development or improvement of society.