Luiza Avetisyan is Co Founder & VP of Product & Marketing of Staff.am based in Yerevan Armenia.
Staff.am helps employers find talent and helps job seekers find the perfect job.
Full Podcast Transcript
Sidney: Welcome to "The SalesNative Podcast," where tech founders share their most valuable sales lessons. I'm Sidney from Sydney, founder of SalesNative. And today's guest is Luiza Avetisyan, co-founder and VP of Product and Marketing of Staff.am based in Yerevan, Armenia. Luiza, welcome to the show.
Luiza: Hi, Sidney. Thank you very much for this invite and this opportunity.
Sidney: It's great to have you here.
Luiza: It's great to be here.
Sidney: So, Staff.am helps employers find talent and helps job seekers find the perfect job. I'd love to learn about the company, but first, I wanna know why did you start this business?
Luiza: Okay. So we had our company, we're an outsource company, which used to build different products and mobile web applications, and we had really hard time recruiting our tech talent. And not just tech talent, whenever we had a vacancy, we were obliged to use different channels and then end up spending a lot of time and money and sometimes didn't get the results that we wanted. And we were gradually thinking about building a product of ours. So besides doing outsourcing, our team was thinking of having our own product. And the need that we had with our own team brought us this idea to build a platform in Armenia, start with Armenia, and which would provide a lot of different services and would be a one-stop shop. So, it would help, from one side, job seekers to utilize the tools and resources that we provide to land a dream job, and from another perspective, help recruiters, HRs companies, to find their talent more effectively and have a more optimized recruitment process.
So we started at the beginning of 2016. We've done a lot of research, like, we spent a couple of months on researching and, you know, understanding what features you would want and kicked off our project with a focus group where we invited our, like, different HRs,10 recruiters from different companies, whom we presented our idea and they liked it. And then we knew that the market really needed something like this. So basically, this is why we started the company, and I'm glad that for a lot of employers currently in Armenia, we do solve the problem that we used to have two, three years ago.
Sidney: That's a brilliant backstory. I think there's a couple of lessons here for our listeners that I'd love to call out. The first one is, often, people are looking for this grand idea. And more often than not, as guests come on this show, the grand idea was sitting right under their nose. If you can solve a problem that you're having, someone else is probably also having that problem and it's worth investigating further as you did, as Luiza did here. She validated by bringing in focus groups and people that are in the ecosystem to get their level of interest and found, yeah, there really is a need, and then went all into bring this service to market. And from what I know, you're dominating quite strongly in the Armenia market right now. So great, great story. So...
Luiza: Thank you.
Sidney: ...tell me about Staff.am, what do you do, who do you do it for, and how you're moving the needle for your target customer?
Luiza: Okay. So basically, we are a data-driven HR platform, hiring platform, that serves the needs of companies, employers, as well as job seekers. Our customers are HRs in companies. So, companies pay us for different services, while the platform is free of charge for job seekers. So in general, what we do is we provide different online tools that are used by both employers and job seekers to find each other. These are search database, these are job alerts, these are mailing lists, etc.
And then from another side, we also help the labor market development. We aid to this process. And by this I mean, for example, we run a full-scale HR blogs, staff blog, where we share different information, like useful resources, tips, we cover different company cultures. And with this, we bring employers and companies closer to job seekers.
From another side, we also have our trainings module, and we match trainings with the job postings, job positions. What this means is whenever someone visits our website, or our EPS, they see a job posting which they would like to apply for. However, they have some...they see some gaps in their knowledge, experience, or skills and then the trainings come, matching trainings, that can help them. So by taking this training, they gain the skill. And they can even verify these skills through Staff.am and later apply to this job. So in general, we provide an end-to-end recruitment experience, from posting a job on our platform by HRs, ending with collecting CVs and arranging the recruitment process.
And for job seekers, it's again, all automated. They can build their ultimate CV on our platform, apply for jobs, and follow the entire application process, whether they were shortlisted, whether they were invited for an interview, hired, or rejected. And then, the supporting materials, like our staff blog and training module, helps them to develop further to become a better professional, to do their job better or to find a better career.
And I also wanted to mention that we've been in the market for 18 months already and we do hold leading position. We've done a lot of work to have this position and to retain it. And now, we have our plans, our regional expansion plans. And there are specific markets like Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus in Ukraine that we now target. And in upcoming couple of years, we plan to introduce our platform in these countries as well.
Sidney: Oh, wow...
Luiza: I think that's...
Sidney: ...there's all...
Luiza: Yeah, yeah.
Sidney: There's a lot of clever things here, Luiza. Thank you for explaining that. I think from a strategy perspective, I'll just want to call out a few things about the way you have gone about this market. So firstly, thinking about the end-to-end experience and the outcome, you've incorporated a lot more than just a job posting site.
Sidney: Globally, there's a lot of job posting sites out there, but I think what's really clever in this is it's almost like even more than a marketplace. You're almost matching service level, right, with some AI to recommend things, improve people's skills and capability to better suit, you know, make them better suitable for certain roles. And then the verification process, I think, is good for the employers to make sure that, you know, people have come through the platform and have the skills that they're saying they've got. And then, even with the expansion plans that you're mentioning. A lot of people talk about expansion and then the next words they say is "USA." Whereas, I think it's smart sticking to your home ground advantage. Obviously, you speak English really well, but you have language advantages, being able to speak Russian, to moving into the markets that speak that language, and being close to home and in the same sort of business culture. So a lot of lot of smarts there, I think, that we can all learn from.
Luiza: Sure, yeah, exactly. Not only the language gives an advantage to these countries, but also the culture of doing business. Also, the fact that these markets are emerging and they need the HR solutions that we provide, hiring and recruitment solutions that we provide. So yeah, very well noticed these markets really are an advantage for us, I think, compared to U.S., for example.
Sidney: Brilliant. So, I now wanna turn our attention to sales at Staff.am. Tell me about your most interesting sale.
Luiza: Okay. This is a challenging question to answer because there have been number of interesting cases that we've had, but I will pick one. So first of all, I would say that we started our sales process long before launching Staff.am, two, three months before actual final launch. And one of the companies that we went and met, they are our big customers now, loyal customers, and we really took our time to analyze their current situation and even got to meet with people who had previously offered them similar solutions. So we had all of the entire spectra of needs that they had and the potential requirements and how they would challenge us.
So when we went there, they started with their list that, you know, "We want this, we want that." We had this challenge, and this list was huge. And then when we started to answer them that, you know, "We've done our homework, we know that you have this issue and we are solving it this way. You have that issue and then we are solving with this approach." And some of the items were still open and they challenged us that, "You know, guys, your platform doesn't provide this tools." Then, we went and it took us less than a month to develop these tools and come back and offer them the service again. And they ended up buying our biggest annual subscription. They were the first company to get this annual subscription. And later, the feedback that they gave us they said that, "We knew from the day one that you guys are going to succeed because you were so agile, because you were so ready to provide what we really wanted, because the customer meeting that we had with you was all about us but not about your product or your company." So this was a good starting point for us, and was a really interesting experience, I think.
Sidney: Wonderful. So again, some great lessons for our listeners. Firstly, the sales process starts before the business started, right?
Sidney: So they could be doing a number of things, whether it's research, seeding the market, building community, all with the intention of A, getting close to the target audience. But B, more importantly, and Luiza is highlighting this, understanding their needs intimately, really deeply, really well, including understanding what else they've tried in the past, or what is it that they're currently trying or using that's not working for them.
The other key thing was your agility, so being able to respond sets an expectation that you will address a problem, you will fill a gap, go away and come back in a timely fashion and address it. And I think the last point that you made was it wasn't about us and our company and our product and our thing, but it was about them, their pain, their needs, and what was gonna work for them. And I think they detected that from way off, and you've scored a large deal, annuity deal and very much well-deserved. So great story and great lessons out of that. Thank you.
Luiza: Yeah. Thank you, too.
Sidney: So, what should first-time tech founders know when it comes to sales? Or in other words, what sales advice would you be giving yourself if you were starting over?
Luiza: I'll start with the first part, so what should first-time tech founders know when it comes to sales? Actually, I have observed a number of startups here in Armenia that had great tech teams and products but they lacked the sales part. And I would say that, especially when it comes to B2B sales, because what I would say now, it all applies to B2B sales. Staff.am is a B2B platform and we are specialized in B2B sales. So when it comes to sales, tech founders think that, okay, they have built the product, they have the team, that's it, the product is going to sell itself. It's not going to happen. So I have picked three main advices that I want to give to first-time techs. It's not only to first-time tech founders, but to tech founders in general. And this was something that we had in our company, in our startup, and it really helped us.
I would also add that I have some experience, some business development experience from my previous...I have sales experience and business development experience in my background and that helped me also a lot.
So the first thing is, as I mentioned earlier today, start the sales process earlier. Don't wait for the final product to be launched and then start your sales, no. We started three months before the actual launch. That gives you two competitive advantages. First of all, you haven't built your product fully. And when you go and start to sell what you already have, you receive feedback from your direct beneficiaries. They tell you, "You know what? This one is good. This one would be nice to have extra, etc."
And the second thing is that when you go and speak with them earlier than the actual product launch, you build credibility. You say, "You know, in three months, I'm going to have this product and I want you to be there and to start using it." If you have a chance of providing them a grace period to use your product for free, like for a week, for a month, for two months, then you should, for sure, take this opportunity as well. So this is the first advice, start your sales process as early as possible. But it shouldn't be like one year prior to launch. I think ideal timeline is from three to one month earlier.
The second one is set a sales framework from day one. Don't treat your startup as a small company or as something, an entity that cannot have an established sales process, sales framework and treat it very seriously. What I mean by a sales framework is an end-to-end process, an end-to-end experience. Okay, you are contacting your potential customer, list the channels that you want to reach them by, what are the channels, and then, measure the effectiveness of each channel. And then, have your timeline of recontacting these customers again. You wrote a letter, don't leave it like that. And then, you set a timeline, like answer them in a month, in two months, in one week, but have a consistent approach to this one as well.
Of course, sales letters and presentations are really very important, and they are also part of the sales process and sales framework. So all of these things should be done and should be established from day one. Don't wait two months, three months, five months, one year, and then just, you know, start to build this process.
And the third part is, whenever you have an opportunity to hire someone dedicated, even if it's for like a part-time job, it doesn't matter. You're a tech founder, you do not have all that time of doing this operation, sales operations yourself, hire someone. You can share commissions or, I don't know, get some negotiations around the remuneration. But get someone as early as possible so they can drive this framework, this process for you. And the results will eventually come a lot sooner than you'd expect.
In general, if I sum up, good sales processes are all about customers. If you are not a customer-centric person personality, then hire someone who is really customer-centric because it really helps the sales process. It really helps to have a good well-established and quality sales process if the one who drives this process is really customer-centric.
Sidney: So, the key summaries were: start the sales process much earlier, and we already got this from the previous answer. But in that one, there is between one and three months before the product launch. And the key part of that is you get direct feedback while you're still building the product. You're building credibility, and you can offer a grace period to entice people to commit to even buying the product earlier.
The second was to make sure you have a sales framework right from day one. And even if it's a very high level-like process, start with that and then over time, you'll go deeper on tools and the methods and frameworks. But have something that's an end-to-end process from day one so that you can understand what's working, what's not, and what needs to change.
And the third one was, get a dedicated sales person. And I noted that you didn't say a sales guru or a sales gun or someone who's gonna go right to their accounts. It was very much, we have a process, and someone who's customer-centric, who's passionate about the customer and to help move the process along. So it's more about the sales operation working rather than any heroic guy or girl being able to perform an amazing sales result, which is not a good way to set up your company, anyway. So, fantastic.
Luiza: Okay, great.
Sidney: Luiza, we're gonna change some gears here. So sales aside, as a tech founder, what's your biggest struggle and how are you overcoming it?
Luiza: Okay, so tech founders have a lot of areas where they struggle, starting from funding ending with, you know, to tech team recruitment or, I don't know, trying to bring the best talent. But I would like to highlight one area that is under our direct focus right now, and we really want to excel here. So this is keeping up with user and customer expectations. And by saying this, I mean number of aspects of this process. The first one is, you know, you already have a built product, a product, it works, it serve its mission, you have customers, you have user base, etc. But then, you need to evolve and you need to develop it further. So sometimes, choosing the path to take to further develop your product is the hardest part.
Meeting your customer expectations is, I think, for me personally, is the biggest struggle and especially when you are thinking not only within your country where you know you're, you know, the people there, the culture, etc. But when you are thinking about expanding internationally, it's really hard. And this applies to your actual product, its features and tools. This applies to a user experience and customer experience that you provide for your product. And this applies to the customer service that you provide, because if you are a B2B business, then you have this customer service part as well. So, this is the, basically, what is the biggest struggle.
What we do at Staff.am to ensure that we are, you know, working along with our customers' needs so we are, you know, not being detached from their requirements and needs, is that we listen to them very frequently. Whenever we launch a new tool or a feature that drastically changes the way they did their job before, I mean, their interaction with Staff.am, we take our time to ask them, to ask feedback, what they think and how this is going to improve their experience. And then, after launching it, we again go and ask for feedback. And we also measure it through our statistics, like visits, number of applications, etc. So it is a constant monitoring to understand whether what you are doing is what your customer really wants from you. And then when you expand and scale, this process becomes a lot more challenging. But thank God, there are lots of online tools, etc., that can measure a lot of things for you, and then you are the decision-maker and make the final decision.
And I want to sum up and say that I think great products are...or what makes apart great products from other products, similar products, which eventually didn't succeed in a way that great products did is this constant, you know, is constantly catching up with customer needs. So a company that really succeeded, this means that they had good culture of keeping up with these customer expectations compared to other companies. It's not just one thing, it's not your technical part, it's not your, like, tech product, it's not your customer experience, it's not your team, it's not your brand. It's not just one thing, it's all the things put together.
Sidney: I think that's really interesting. I think right towards the end of that answer, I got a new insight as to why this is maybe keeping you up at night. It's because you've associated...
Luiza: I guess, sometimes.
Sidney: ...a lot of this success of the great companies out there with their ability to quickly iterate to keep up with customer expectations. And you're saying, it's not just one thing. Expectations are what the product does, what the onboarding experience is like, what the expansion's like, what the features are, as well as what your service is like, and it's constantly a moving target. And for you to keep being number one, you need to make sure that you're relevant and being relevant to them. And so, that's why this is challenging. And Luiza's recommendation and the approach they're taking is constant checking points, like, in person, but as well as using analytics to look at what parts of, you know, the implemented features, whether it's a product feature or it's a customer experience feature or a service feature are actually being used and appreciated. So, a constant feedback loop, and never settle, I guess. So that's really good.
Sidney: Okay, so Luiza, thank you for being on the show. I wish you and Staff.am all the best, and I look forward to hearing more about your progress.
Luiza: Thank you very much, Sidney, for this invitation, and I also wish a lot of success to SalesNative. And I think that this is a great initiative, and it will help a lot of tech founders with their sales effort.
Sidney: Brilliant. Thank you, and goodbye.
Luiza. There you have it, folks, valuable insights from a fellow founder. Remember, as a tech founder, to succeed, you need to sell. And sales is not a dirty word, it's a value exchange, meaning you need to create and capture value. Here at SalesNative, our calling is to provide sales inspiration, training, and coaching to tech founders wherever you may be in the world enabling you to reach your potential, to make your impact, and to leave your legacy. If this is you, then I invite you to head over to salesnative.com and sign up for my free talk, "The 10 Sales Essentials for First-time Tech Founders." From one founder to another, I wish you success, and remember, you're just one sale away.
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