Business leaders, which 20 percent of your customers generate 80 percent of your revenue?
Stefan Haney recently worked with a client who had a annual goal of retaining 90 percent of clients. With Stefan’s help, they revised that goal to something more effective for both their customers and their business.
“Every customer is important,” said Stefan, “but not all customers are equal. You could actually retain 90 percent of your annual customers and still lose money.”
Stefan helped this client leverage data to connect with their customers, which led them to refine their goals and focus their products and processes on growing their relationship with customers. This, in turn, led to them serving customers more effectively and increasing revenue.
This is what Stefan does. He helps companies connect with their customers using data. His specialty is e-commerce, so he spends a lot of time helping organizations set up or improve their online sales, whether through their own website or Amazon.com.
Stefan is also a master networker who gets a kick out of connecting people and helping companies find the right people to fill the right seats. He does this by first creating clarity around decision-making and functional ownership, then examining the organization to figure out which adjustments could help realign the company to new business constraints.
“I love finding how to leverage a person’s superpower to help support the business,” he said.
The Birth of a Businessman
Stefan’s business education began at the age of 14 when he started working at a bike shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A native of the nearby town of Jenison, he worked at the bike shop until he was 20, doing everything from fixing flats to waxing skis, fitting bikes and managing inventory. Eventually he focused on selling hard-to-sell specialty items, like tandems and car racks, and training other salespeople. Stefan’s bike shop days allowed him to see how a business worked from top to bottom, from buying and selling to paying for and tracking inventory.
Stefan attended Western Michigan University. During his freshman year, he planned on becoming either an engineer or a business major. However, when he discovered calculus was not his forte, he turned his attention to business and got to know some of his professors with international marketing experience. The sales and design aspects of marketing didn’t interest him, but supply chain did. He liked learning about how products move, how to handle the purchasing of raw materials, forecasting, etc.
Stefan capped his college studies with an international stint in Munich, Germany at the Ludwig Maximalians Universität. Upon completing his business degree, he moved to Chicago to work for Accenture, where he specialized in supply chain management and focused on product forecasting and setting up automated inventory systems. His clients included brands like Caterpillar, Harley Davidson, Microsoft, Kodak and Bahlsen.
“As my bike shop days gave me a view of how small business works and how everything is connected, Accenture gave me a view of how computer systems drive business,” said Stefan. “It’s all automated business logic.”
Stefan saw how a business could automate processes to make decisions faster, and then audit that automation to decide whether it was making the right decisions.
“This required me to get smarter about statistics,” he said. “That prepared me for my later work at Amazon, where I would be tasked with determining how to automate decisions, use data to drive those decisions and then analyze whether we were making good decisions with data.”
The Amazon Years
Stefan left Accenture after five years to work with an internet company and, during this time, got married. Two months after the wedding, his wife got pregnant and he got laid off. The Haneys decided it was time to find work that required less travel, in a place that wasn’t buried in snow every winter. That place was Seattle. A colleague from Accenture gave Stefan’s resume to a friend at Amazon and Stefan accepted a position there in 2003.
“Amazon in 2003 was about 2,500 people in Seattle,” said Stefan. “That was pre-Prime. There was no Kindle, no AWS. So, my time at Amazon was heavily spent scaling and building. I worked in operations and helped expand software for inventory purchasing from books and videos out to 30 more categories"
Stefan quickly realized his usual method of handling data — an Excel spreadsheet — wasn’t going to work. Excel tapped out after about 250,000 rows, and the data he was trying to analyze went far beyond that limit. So, he learned a programming language, Perl, and a new operating system, Unix. Armed with these new tools, Stefan was able to analyze much larger data sets to create solutions for things like the Cold Prickly problem. This was what Amazon called the issue of delayed delivery, and it was Stefan’s first major project. He had to figure out how to both proactively send notifications (cold pricklies) to customers whose orders weren’t going to be delivered on time, and reduce the overall number of cold pricklies they had to send. Stefan reduced the problem by 50 percent in the first year and identified new mechanisms to prevent future issues.
Stefan’s second major project was figuring out how to automate inventory purchasing and increase the number of categories in Amazon’s marketplace. Within a couple of years, Stefan increased these categories from four to 44 by taking the company’s business processes and putting them into software. This was no easy task, partly because at that time Amazon wasn't big enough for retailers to care about.
“When I was first expanding software for ordering diapers, the diaper company wouldn’t work with them because Amazon was too small,” said Stefan. "They hung up on me." Stefan persevered and eventually his team surpassed 95 percent automated inventory ordering.
In 2009, Stefan joined Amazon’s third-party marketplace team.
“My responsibilities were building B2B portal tools, and helping recruit new sellers and helping them grow.” Grow they did. When Stefan joined the team, third-party sellers, who are mostly small business owners, made up about 25 percent of Amazon’s business. When he left in 2016, that percentage had more than doubled. During this time, Stefan hired team leaders and built product, software and data science teams who launched software and algorithms under his direction.
Stefan then went from focusing on third-party sellers to overhauling Amazon’s product page. This put him in charge of an organization of 150 people who were spread out across India, Eastern Europe and the United States. He built many teams for this part of the business, and interviewed more than 1,000 people in order to build the most effective teams he could to tackle the issue of the core e-commerce page. This is one of the oldest pieces of software at Amazon, and in 2016 every product, regardless of price, category, size, etc., used nearly same layout.
"Part of my job was to reinvent the strategy for the product page so that it was more tailored to each shopper and each product that we were selling, while also serving the needs of dozens of Amazon internal businesses to launch custom features faster," said Stefan.
Stefan had to figure out how to tailor this page to make shopping easier. This required revising the commerce and merchandizing strategy, which required getting to know customers with widely varied shopping behaviors. Those who were relatively new to the internet and e-commerce did things differently than shoppers who had been buying things online for years. For example, 70 percent of orders placed in Romania were COD prior to COVID. Stefan had to understand shopping patterns around the world and use that understanding to tailor the page to each customer.
“If you’re already a Prime customer, we don’t try to sell you more Prime,” he said. “But if you’re a new customer who’s never shopped online, is that really the best time to sell you Prime? Maybe we should just help you get to that first purchase.”
This is where modern business really diverged from Stefan’s bike shop days. At the shop, he got to know his customers in person, through conversations over time. These conversations led organically to sales, because life events would lead to the need for a new bike, lock, rack, etc. At Amazon, he would never get to have daily conversations with customers as they logged on and started searching. So, Stefan helped build machine learning and data science teams to tailor pages to the product as well the shopping journey, using huge amounts of data to test what worked and what didn’t. Many different factors had to be taken into account — the customer’s location, device, internet connection, screen size, Prime membership and, of course, the product itself. Someone using their phone to buy a toothbrush in line at the airport probably doesn’t care about large, high-quality photos, but someone on their home desktop looking for a cocktail dress does.
Stefan left Amazon in 2019 and met Jeff Rogers and Brian Jorgenson through one of their many mutual connections. He sought them out for mentoring and started thinking through what he wanted to do next. OneAccord seemed like a fitting next step. Stefan could see not only the benefits he would gain from the company, but also the benefits he would bring.
“The opportunity to be around over two dozen Principals who were older than me and learn from their experience and their shared values is a blessing to me,” he said. “It puts me in a great learning environment. And technology is an enabler for everybody. If I can be a blessing to OneAccord by bringing some tech expertise, if I can help other Principals with the background I have or connect them with people they need for software, Jeff and I saw that as an opportunity.”
Becoming a Principal also enabled Stefan to help more people. When he meets a business owner who needs someone with skills he doesn’t have, Stefan can now call on the entire OneAccord team to find the right person to help.
Stefan has been married to his wife, Megan, since 2001. They have seven children: four girls and three boys ranging in age from 6 to 18. They enjoy playing sports, crafting, playing music and singing, cooking and traveling together far and wide.