The founders of HRM-projects studio “Sorokin and Kulinkovich Studio” Tamara Kulinkovich and Yury Sorokin talked on ItStars! about the Middle Ages in the IT field, air sales, exorbitant high maintenances and the importance of teaching sales to not only sellers but also business analysts and developers.
Science, love, and tents at the Dynamo stadium
Tamara Kulinkovich: In my youth, I was sure that I would devote my whole life to science like my grandmother, father, mother. I entered the faculty of philosophy and social sciences of BSU. I went to social and medical psychology, did a lot of math, statistics and various studies. I graduated, got the prestigious diplomas, and entered graduate school. I was sure that I would be a scientist, and Yura was daring me, saying that my competencies were dying and that I was burying my entrepreneurial talent. Still, I remained at the university for a long time and, to be honest, I would take the employee records and quit only after a month.
I had research where 2 thousand people took part. Using my own diagnostic technique I revealed very unusual patterns of behavior in men and women in Belarusian companies in response to the power of a leader. Now I conduct more research with the scientific foundations for companies like research of markets and new products before launching, analysis of an internal organization, etc.
Yury Sorokin: And I have always been hanging around an entrepreneurial environment.
Money is always needed. Firstly you need money to buy something, and then to estimate how much you are in demand here.
Tamara’s family is always shy when we tell something about ourselves. They are all scientists, and I’m from a family of show businessmen and just businessmen. Since childhood, I had all the stories related to making money before my eyes. After I graduated from high school, I enter some educational institution. It was hard for me to enter BSU with my certificate and results which were far from excellent.
I don’t know why I needed BSU, but for some reason, I really wanted to study there.
In one summer, I managed to save up for some part of the education with the help of my first Rock Shop in Minsk in 1996-1997. I found several guys who started to sew the first custom leather caps. As I remember they cost $ 15, and it was a splash! They looked awful. They were bought by very dubious people. First, we made a store, and then we opened several tents at the Dynamo stadium. So we started with caps, then expanded our leather assortment. All these goods were sewed to us by some guys from TVETs. Leather pants cost $ 80, the price of a cap $ 15, but for me, its cost price was about $ 5.
T.K.: In those years, I was completely far from these people. I thought that they did not exist, it was just a parallel world. Yury irrevocably ruined me according to my whole circle. Relatives say that I’ve become vulgar, that my values have changed. But I slow down Yurin’s adventurism all the same when making some decisions.
We studied at the same faculty with Yura but did not fit in at once. People told me about him just to scare me. Like, you don’t like the way that guy swears, so you still haven’t seen Sorokin. Yura has already graduated from the university and went to chat with the guys on the smoking room a couple of months later.
I saw him and thought: "Well, Sorokin, I am going to impress you!" And for some reason, I decided to drink a plum charnila straight out of the bottle with our mutual friends (charnila is a cheap and strong wine made of berries or fruits, usually poor-quality — The Heroes Media). And I impressed him! It turned out that at that moment he also thought that he would impress me. We pretended not to notice each other, but the next day he called me. We had been dating for several months and thought that we had a kind of business, not love for sure. He lured me quietly by deception, and finally, I fell in love with him. It happened in about a year after the wedding.
Once Yura brought a real tape cassette on which the negotiations of 10-year-old Yura with some men extorting money from his father were recorded. Yura began a conversation with them with the phrase: “We didn’t start calling each other by name!”. And they started talking to him more respectful.
Just imagine how I was terrified of his childhood. I felt pity for him.
Portrait of a Belarusian businessman and greetings from the 90s
Y.S.: Everything that was in the Belarusian business in the 90s has remained just about the same, I don’t see any serious changes. T.K.: People have learned a new language of communication, trying to be passive-aggressive. They do not shoot on the street and this is already good enough.
Y.S.: Belarus is a partisan country. We don’t go head-on, we prefer night showdowns with minimal losses. As a rule, Belarusian businessmen are rather quiet. They are often provincial guys who wear costumes and do different things. They hide behind newspeak, but their manner of maintaining businesses is rather coward. They are snobs, they do not like to express their points of view, they are anti-sale and Soviet-like.
There is another point: the decision-making speed of Belarusian corporate clients is a few times slower than that of Russian. I don’t understand what this is connected with. In Ukraine, sometimes there are such incredible cases that one wonders how an adult in such a post can do such stupidity. The Asian region is a completely different story. They still seem to live there as clans. And if you cooperate with one, then the path to negotiations with another clan is closed to you.
T.K.: But Ukrainians impress me by the fact that they do not keep money at home but immediately invest it. Those in whom this money is invested take it and invest in something else, so there is a constant circulation of money. In Belarus, you can communicate with a very wealthy company, they can tell you that PR is very important to them, because there are no people for the project, but at the same time, they will not spend money on paying for vacancies. And Russia is huge, the regions are very different from each other, so it is difficult to characterize the situation there as a whole. But Russians are more passionate than Belarusians.
Lately I notice that almost every active and passionate entrepreneur in Belarus turns out to be Russian either by blood or by moving here.
I feel sad for Belarus. We are such good performers and hard workers. But when I communicate with Belarus as clients, I call for collaboration, dedication, but they don’t really want to. They seem to be a little stunned. When I notice all these things, I want a change. I want to pump my thinking, change development models, teach how to spend money.
Y.S.: I try not to include Belarusians in the team for some projects related to Moscow. It often happens that when guys come to a new city, they can ditch for peanuts. And it turns out a quiet and petty version of the future events.
T.K.: I don’t like that we didn’t speak well about Belarus, so I’ll end this topic in the following way. Having a bunch of opportunities, we never thought about moving to another country. We are very comfortable here among the people we live with. Going somewhere is simply pointless.
I really liked the phrase in your previous podcast with Siarhei Kazlouski that you should understand what price you have to pay in the country you have chosen. We visited many countries, and in each of them, I clearly see the price. And often these prices do not balance the benefits that are there. I miss French cheeses, but I don’t need the rest. Therefore, I do not confuse tourism with emigration. We have not adapted here, we are just physically well.
Y.S.: You shall also count the taxes that you pay in Belarus.
It doesn’t matter what anyone says but the local tax system is wonderful.
You can swear at any legislative system, but here you can try to find a council on it at certain points. It is fair most often. So far, we have encountered only positive cases.
As for big sales, here you need to understand if you can or can not sell to a particular person or company. The only thing is that there are no state-owned companies among our clients, unlike in Russia. Everything else here more than suits me.
T.K.: In Belarus, I also like the fact that the country is small, the market is small, and you really can personally influence the change in the ecosystem. I can change people’s attitudes towards IT sales, IT recruiting and people management. And if I get inspired enough, I can change it at the state level.
Career start and consulting projects
Y.S.: In 2008, we started the business processor of the HR and the sales departments. We received all kinds of certifications for the development and installation of these processors. We started with HR systems, then went into sales systems, later we started making integrated large systems like future programs or product management within large companies. Later we left the large companies and founded our own consulting business, which essentially covers different areas like HR, sales, and process automation.
Until 2008, I was first HR Director, then Director of Development and Products of several large manufacturing companies, and later companies with a specific IT department. By chance, I became the head of the development department of a company that was engaged in agricultural technology. I stayed in this position for about a year, leading a decent team of developers, while not understanding anything in development. But I absolutely definitely sold the team what should be sold to the client.
I couldn’t care less what they write there, the possibility to sell it was the one that mattered.
Consulting projects take a lot of time, they are piecemeal. The company gives us an office, a team of people, and we live this entire project with them. Our educational projects like conferences and meetings are very visible, they are in sight. A lot of our movement is visible. It seems that we are completely immersed in them.
External movement is visible only from the position of our schools. But schools are good when you put the process in the company, you need people who understand your logic and your culture. We created schools to remove the lack of personnel when we are called to help.
Schools and sales courses for IT professionals
Y.S.: When we had launched the first project on the open market we created the first recruiting school. The school was created not to educate children somewhere, but to have a very specific list of trained specialists.
The same thing happened with the school of sales. There were none at all, so we began to create a new culture. Considering that we had experience in saturating the market with SEO experts we were sure that we would do the same with IT specialists. And it all seemed to work. We got our own recruiters and sellers. The next reasonable step is to work with the control system in IT. We needed managers, but there were no clever ones.
It is hard to believe that such a Middle Ages can happen in the most technologically advanced industry.
T.K.: We came from real business and worked with so many companies that have been developing their knowledge and methods for almost centuries. Along with these processed IT was created, where they disdained everything “real-sector”. They acted in a way like “here is a guy who speaks good English, let him try.” After a while, the guy led meetups about how to sell. We drew attention to this problem and began to help.
The guys began to develop rapidly and move away from these self-made meetups and began to actively borrow American and European experience. This is very different from Russia, where a domestic market is strong.
IT began to break away very much from the real sector over time. And now our mission is not only to say “read the theory”, but to compile and merge what is now created in IT sales and IT marketing with what works in real sales.
There are many sales courses, but they are still studying the "5 steps of sales." This is ridiculous. It is the scheme of 1896 when the salesman went around the apartments, attracted attention and offered to buy something right now.
Now no one is working with customer objections, because they have learned to work with them. If you do not want to buy, then you will not waste your time to work out your objections.
Y.S.: There are almost no objections in IT sales, there is nothing related to marketing, and there are no cold sales. In IT, consulting sales are not enough, and these competencies in IT companies cannot appear from nowhere. Because the first sellers were graduates of linguistic universities who could not sell. Gradually, they began to invite us to train not salespeople, but sales teams consisting of developers, business analysts, etc. And this really began to bring certain benefits to companies.
How to sell air and how Arabs ask for “new Facebook”
Many guys from the real sector notice that they are treated worse when entering IT. And for them, this is big trouble because in the real sector the seller is a god.
In IT, a salesman is a highest-paid schmuck. The developers say that these are them who bring all the money to the company, and here you go in a suit, boasting your expensive watch.
T.K.: After the training, the guys begin to understand that the seller is not the bastard who sold the nonexistent just to get money for himself. They begin to understand his communication with the client, that now there is a diagnosis of needs, and that their technical solution is sometimes not as important as to solve a client’s business problem. And when they change their focus from technical to non-business, wasting resources will be stopped.
Of course, charlatans are everywhere, but we rarely work with them, because they can be quickly recognized. In some sense, they are similar to Wild West people, where you can pull fast ones and fit right in. I hope that the market will quickly push such people out and they will be transformed.
Y.S.: It often happens that a long-playing project does not have any exhaust, but it is absolutely interesting to both sides. Therefore, such sales will always exist because there is nothing wrong with the agreement of the two parties.
It often happens that companies order a particular development, but they are not ready to maintain it. And so you are almost certain that your product will be thrown right away.
T.K.: They do this maliciously. And sometimes that just want to play with a product and to try it.
Y.S.: It happens that they really sell a non-existent product. We often sell non-existent products, because customers can change their requests quite quickly. Every new month a new product is created. We even have the corresponding slogan our company pens: "Something will be".
The client is sometimes so insane that he does not even understand when to stop. But while he pays, we make a product for him.
T.K.: I am a comic idealist. If you work environmentally, then this will be good for everyone. If I see that something will happen, then okay. If I see a cut in the budget, then don’t. We also swear very often because of this.
You have no idea how unrealistic requests we get. It’s like coming to the doctor and saying: “My liver hurts, how much will it cost to cut it here?” And if you are a bad doctor, you name the price. But on the one hand, there is a place for bad doctors in the market.
You see a company which has money, but you can’t do what they want, or they don’t need it, or it all is bloody wound. You begin to work with their needs, you start to reduce sales, but you keep a quality project for yourself and for the company. Because there’s nothing worse than an embittered old Arab when he noticed that creating a new Facebook fails.
Y.S.: To get an Arab who is willing to pay for a new Facebook this is the golden sales unicorn that everyone would like to get. But no one ever received it. Because part of the requests to "make Facebook" stops with the phrase: "I have one and a half dollars for development." And the majority of answers are like this. There are no people who waste billions.
A salesman also has his fear because an underqualified lead often affects his motivation. Make a call, invite this Arab, who will throw all this nonsense on your developers… You will be destroyed as a seller.
T.K.: It is important to make a schedule with work stages. As a result of each stage, a client gets something that already exists. If he understands that there will be no new Facebook, then he still has a thing after each stage that he can monetize. We never took such things. It happened that we swore terribly. For example, with the stars of recent publications in the Belarusian media. A man thinks about what he needs. And after a month of communication with his people, we understand that he needs something completely different. We didn’t take this project.
We work together, but there are cool teams
Y.S.: We do the main work together, and the rest is outsourced. There is a pool of close people, and there is a team that we can call at any time.
T.K.: We have only the administrator, partly a lawyer, partly an accountant. We sometimes hire people for a particular project. We have completely removed all the costly things that would drive us into debt when something goes wrong. We have very good team contacts, which we take on different projects. Sometimes these are internal commands of a customer himself.
We’ve never taken loans, and we were not in debt even with relatives. Maybe that’s why we are not blazing fast-growing.
It is our fee for the fact that we did not use the financial leverage of other people’s money to expand and earn quickly. But we never owed anyone and it is very liberating.
Y.S.: Even if there are no orders for projects, we still can feel quite relaxed for a couple of years as we have money from the previous projects. If there are no automation projects, there will always be process projects. If you do not need to build them, you will need to evaluate the company. IT companies are growing rapidly and they need to be compared with international standards. There are actually not so many people who are involved in evaluating these processes.
T.K.: The loudest ups of our company have always been during crises. Because during the thaw people order one part of the service. And during the crisis when everything is bad they order another part of the services. And we help them.
Y.S. So we became pessimists as all our money were earned in a crisis.
About quitting businesses and working in retirement
T.K.: I will again refer to your podcast with Siarhei Kazlouski who said: “I try to make me get money even if I do not interfere in my business right now”.
We take ourselves out of all our businesses as much as possible. For the year we have already done this by 30%. We become managers, understanding what is happening, we feel the market, and this should be our core competency. We ourselves will do a minimum.
We have our own product to improve the processes of a company. I do not want to name the product. I came up with it 4 years ago with my client. They created an IT-company for this product, and from our side, there was a complete intellectual filling of it. We brought it out, and it is sold within the CIS. There is a product, it is very pretty. A huge amount of knowledge is into it. Three psychologists worked with me, and we implied up 500 questions for the diagnosis of competencies with 6 possible answers.
Business with the people
T.K.: I normally communicate within the b2c segment. We have three schools, meetings, and conferences. When I see sharply soaring products after several conversations on the sidelines I know that the creator of such a product is some person who has got money from Yandex or Mail.ru. And it makes me uncomfortable that the guys share their knowledge, they say, how cool it is to start a product in the b2c sphere, but they hide investments of $ 6-7 million.
If your product does not have real value for society or people, then this speculation will burst. I can’t deal with soap bubbles by upselling them to investors.
Y.S.: On the other hand, we were b2b. We have a clear idea of how large infrastructures work. For example, I just need to see the digits within one corporation to understand much more capacious patterns. I wonder how my product affects the lives of a whole bunch of people.
T.K.: I have two shops where I sell real things to real people. They are international at etsy.com. I still have my own personal startup, where the guys read aloud the works, though until it is monetized. I go out to people from time to time. I want to do something in b2c sometimes.
“Where’s the money, Lebowski?”
T.K.: I have already written two books. One is stored in the National Library, and it is about how to write and correctly draw up links to scientific sources. The second is about the needs of users of IT-products, it is on the Internet, and there are 72 pages. But research on the types of response to power in the company so far does not fall into my business projects.
Y.S.: The book was not very beneficial for our family. I always sit down to Tamara at such a strategic table and ask: “Where is the money here, and when will it appear?”. We even have a family meme.
I ran a blog for HR on LiveJournal from 2006 to 2010, then it was a Wordpress site. The blog was popular, they offered me ads, I was admired and hated. The guys came to get a bit of advice on how to install Microsoft Dynamics, they used to ask me to come and help. I began to realize that something was wrong, and I just sit and throw my money and my time into the damn hole. So I gave up and quit.
T.K.: Now we have turned content marketing to meetings and conferences not due to articles, but due to events that will be more capacious in meaning. And by the way, we gathered all the IT-sales meetups on one site with video and presentations.
On the philosophical issue and the election race of Trump
T.K.: Our dacha neighbor came to us once to borrow something when there were no parents. And we had such a dialogue.
- Do you have fish? — the neighbor asks. “I’m not a fisherman.” — says Yura.
- Do you have mushrooms? “I’m not a mushroom picker.”
- And are you picking berries?
- So what the hell are you?
And so far I cannot answer this question. Because we now feel the market and create products for it that are currently needed. But who am I? I don’t know yet.
A woman recently asked Yura: "What are you doing?". Yura said that he worked in IT." She was disappointed and told that it was boring.
Y.S.: I have 12 thousand followers on Instagram, but recently there were only 900. I posted my pictures when there was Trump’s election race. Clinton herself really scared me, I don’t trust such people at all. I drew a picture of Hilary Clinton flying on a broomstick with the pun “Wicked Bitch”. And then suddenly I get likes from Trump’s campaign headquarters and Trump’s wife. And after that, I got a lot of subscribers. These were amazing people from the USA, from my favorite southern states. On the final night, I drew a picture of “Erection day” instead of “Election day, ” where Trump on his knees celebrates his election day. And then I get the same effect but from Clinton. Gradually they leave my account as I draw rarely.
About the hot upcoming Human2it conference
T.K.: Our meetups get a good response. We had 600 registrations and 1,500 views in the first day. I saw that IT sales do not stagnate as people think it does. And we began to make meetups for managers. We tried to share knowledge with the guys who are just starting to manage teams. As a result, they decided to unite it all and devote it not one evening, but the whole day.
Usually, a meetup can gather a lot more people and have a larger reach, but no one thinks about it seriously. As soon as you announce a conference, they begin to take you more seriously. And we set a ridiculous price of 60 rubles.
We will be giving away free cocktails for two weeks to guys who have a conference ticket. We made our signature cocktails with the Butleger bar: “Black as scary management issues”, “Yellow and juicy, like a signed contract”, “White and silk, like a startup’s CEO dreams about own business”.
We took the topic of IT disputes and chose all the issues from the comments and discussions. But it turned out that find a speaker is rather difficult. We even wanted to invite a speaker from Ukraine and offered to put on a mask, but they decided not to go yet. We want to discuss difficult issues with a fun context. Therefore, there will be no lengthy reports, only one stream and a lot of round tables. So that people would swear and talk straight on stage. Note that we will not have a single foreign speaker. It will be held on Saturday, October 5.