From Consulting to Customer Success

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In this episode of Beyond Consulting, Ken Kanara, CEO and President of ECA speaks with Ken Hooton, a former Deloitte consultant and current Principal Business Partner at Anaplan to discuss his experience focusing on supply chain and customer success.

Each week we speak with leaders in venture capital, private equity, investment banking, and consulting to explore the various career options after leaving firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG.

The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara.

 

Ken Kanara: Hello and welcome to Beyond Consulting, brought to you by ECA Partners. For those of you joining for the first time, the aim of our podcast is to helps listeners answer the question, “What career or jobs are available to me after a career in consulting?” I’m Ken Kanara, host of Beyond Consulting and CEO of ECA Partners, a specialized project staffing and executive search firm focused on former management consultants and private equity. Each week, I host guests that have spent time in consulting and made some sort of pivot or career change. The goal is to help our audience understand all the options that they have and ideally, learn from our guests, both in terms of what they did right and things they wish they would have done differently. Today, we welcome Ken Hooton to the studio. Ken, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Ken Hooton: Yes, thanks for inviting me.

 

Ken Kanara: Other than your extremely wonderful first name, could you tell our listeners a little about your background and what brings you here today?   

 

Ken Hooton: Absolutely. You and I have a handful of connections in common. I spent a number of years at Deloitte in consulting, with a focus in supply chain, retail and CPG. Before that, I worked in industry—as I learned after consulting, a lot of people don’t call it “industry” if you’ve never worked in consulting. I worked with Nike, Land O’Lakes, and a handful of other places.     

 

Ken Kanara: That is funny, right? That’s something that you only say when you’re in consulting. “Oh, well, is that what they say in industry?” Then you get out of it and no one actually uses that term.

 

Ken Hooton: No. People in “industry” look at you weird.

 

Ken Kanara: Yes, like “what industry are you talking about?” Ken, you are currently with Anaplan, is that right?

 

Ken Hooton: Yes.

 

Ken Kanara: Awesome. For our audience who doesn’t know what Anaplan does, could you tell what it is that you do?  

 

Ken Hooton: Yes. Anaplan is a SaaS company. We’re focused on enterprise planning. A number of years ago our founders started taking a look around planning in general for large enterprises and realized that the vast majority of companies rely on Excel, PowerPoint, sending data over email—over the proverbial fence to collaborate and plan cross-functionally. So they created an in-memory calculation platform, all based in the cloud, that is supposed to help streamline those planning activities and reduce the ad hoc nature of planning, which is how it has developed over the years, especially due to relying on Excel. The idea here is that we have a platform that should be connected to your enterprise systems—your systems of record. It allows your finance, supply chain, sales and human capital teams to plan with each other so that as your demand forecasts or your sales forecasts are updated, that data is immediately fed to your finance team to update revenue forecasts or margin forecasts, and fed into your supply team to update their plans and ensure they are able to deliver based on the customer demands. It’s been really fun. It’s something that I think has filled a huge void in a number of companies, and something that, while I was consulting, I realized was a pretty big need. Whenever we were asked questions it was always, “where are we going to get the data?” and “how are we going to turn around something that the client can use in the future?” It was always coming back to, “we’re going to put it in Sequel, Access or Excel, and hand them over this little tool.  Anaplan fills that need and can go beyond that.

 

Ken Kanara: You mentioned a variety of functions: sales, supply chain, strategic planning. What is the most common use point or entry point that you are seeing at Anaplan.   

 

Ken Hooton: Our three core areas are financial planning, balance sheet, cashflow…income statement type of planning—that core FP&A. We have a really strong supply chain practice. We were just named a leader by Gardner in supply chain planning. Then our sales performance  management, which entails incentive compensation, territory and quota planning…that whole breadth of sales forecasting is another key strength of ours. So, really connecting those three pieces and filling onto that. With all of those functions, a company’s top line dollars are going to head count planning or, from a supply chain or sales standpoint, there’s a lot of head count planning that has to go into that, so that’s a natural fourth pillar.

Ken Kanara: That makes a lot of sense, especially the sales and finance component. For me, even when we first started talking, Anaplan was synonymous with supply chain, but it makes sense that there’s going to be integrations with other parts of the business. In terms of the clients you’re working with, I imagine it is a wide range, right? From Fortune 1000 to startups? Maybe I’m wrong, but what does that look like?       

 

Ken Hooton: Yes, I think we’re over 15,000 customers right now, globally. I personally, in customer success, work with a lot of our CPG and retail brands. I can’t go into a lot of their names due to confidentiality, but if you went to our website you would see a lot of the brands that you’d expect to see out there. It’s been really exciting. It’s enabled me to continue my career in an industry that I enjoy, which is the CPG retail space.

 

Ken Kanara: Speaking of your career, what is it exactly that you do for Anaplan? What is your role?

 

Ken Hooton: One of the big things that sales force created in the SaaS space was customer success. Because SaaS is a reoccurring revenue business, the idea was, “how do you ensure that customers are happy and successful with the annual payments they’re making to you as a SaaS company?” Anaplan approach here is very similar, but we’re focused on becoming the trusted advisors to our customers, as both the platform and industry experts and the process consultants, to help them best use the platform that they are paying for and enable the value that they are expecting. Generally, if someone is going to go buy a software tool and spend the money to implement it, they want to make sure they’re getting some return on investment or that they’re making things easier for their employees. As customer success we’re here to help them get through that, understand and document it, but also help them leverage Anaplan in the best way possible. It’s not as easy as Excel, it’s not as hard as some other enterprise tools, but having an expert hand-in-hand with our customers is critical to making sure that they are successful and that they are happy with the tool.       

 

Ken Kanara: We’ve talked about this a little bit before, Ken. Part of the reason I wanted to have you on the show is because what you and Anaplan are doing with customer success is really interesting in that it is taking a very strategic, long-term, customer-first look at everything from sales to implementation to on-going support and building business cases. Could you talk about how Anaplan thinks about customer success and also how it’s different and evolving?  

 

Ken Hooton: The way I approach it is that if my customer is my successful, they’re going to renew their licenses. They’re going to say, “yes, Anaplan is great. We want more of it,” or “we’re going to continue the same things we’re doing.” At the end of the day that’s positive for Anaplan, and for our customers as well. By saying, “yes, we want more Anaplan,” it means it’s working for them and it makes it very much a symbiotic relationship of us helping them. They’re getting what they need out of it—they’re achieving their goals on a quarter-by-quarter basis, or a year-by-year basis, and that makes it very easy to work with the customer and help them get better at either the process, the data or hopefully, at the end of the day, hitting their top-down metrics, whether that’s revenue, growth, margin control, cost control, take your pick.     

 

Ken Kanara: Is part of what you do understanding their business objectives—the KPIs they’re trying to hit? I’d be curious to learn a little more about that.

 

Ken Hooton: Yes, absolutely. When I start working with a customer, the first thing I do if they’re public is read their public statements and financials and understand what their top-down goals are. I think to ensure success with any type of software, if you can link what your software is able to do for your end-users to the CEO’s or the CFO’s overall goals, that means the software becomes, in a sales term, “sticky.” More than that, it means that the people you’re working with are going to be more successful at their jobs. I very much like seeing the folks that I work with being successful. It means that they’re getting promoted, they’re happy, they’re enjoying their path and their journey. For me that’s really rewarding to see people that I’m working with winning, and for me to have the ability to help them win.     

 

Ken Kanara: There’s a professor at Harvard Business School, I can’t think of her name, I’ll put the link in the podcast when I actually figure out who did this so I can give them the credit, but she uses a famous trust triangle with three elements: authenticity, logic and empathy. I might be messing that up a little in terms of the nomenclature, but you hit on two of the elements—logic, “Am I asking the right questions?” and empathy, “Do I actually care about the other person winning?” or “Do I care about their success?” I think that is so huge and something that is not always done, from what I’ve observed, in the customer success function. A lot of it, for better or worse, at least starting out, the focus was really on renewals, as opposed to the business outcomes of your customer or client. I’ve seen that evolve. Is that something that you’re seeing evolve more broadly outside of Anaplan as well?

 

Ken Hooton: I don’t know outside of Anaplan. I know our focus is absolutely on not renewals, but the way I’ve been taught in this space is that if you focus on that customer being successful, the renewal is then a non-event. Then the renewal is, “We love this. You guys are doing the right things. You’re helping us, you’re a trusted advisor and a trusted partner.” The renewal isn’t what is in question, instead it’s “What’s next?” It’s “How can we do more?” “How can we get better?” and “How can we make those improvements?” And the hope is that you can get away from a transactional nature and get to that next level of building that trust, having that empathy with the customer and really understanding what their needs are. If you’re doing that, again, it comes back to the renewal isn’t a tough question. It’s not a hard negotiation. There might be some commercials that have to figure out, but it’s a “Yes, Anaplex, ‘check,’ it hits the box, it hits the mark. It’s doing what we expected it to do and we want to do more. Help us figure out what’s next.”

 

Ken Kanara: How did you get into customer success?

 

Ken Hooten: I left Deloitte consulting to help out a nonprofit in the Bay Area. I had worked with them while a consultant, and wanted to get off the road. From there, knowing it was an interim role, I started to think about what I wanted to do next. I knew I didn’t want to be on the road and I didn’t want to be doing the consulting. I had some friends at Anaplan so I started asking questions about, “What is Anaplan?” “What are they doing there?” “What are the rules in software?,” because I hadn’t been around software at all. I found out more and more about customer success and was really excited about being able to help customers and industries that I had liked—the CPG retail, food and beverage, but also use the skills that I had built in consulting of translating business requirements, business needs, business outcomes to more of a technical requirement and bridging that gap between business and technology. I found that was a space that I was enjoying and was able to fill better than some others. I started finding out more about what customer success did, how we worked at Anaplan and how Anaplan worked as a tool. I found my way in there. What really attracted me and what allowed me to get a step in is that we really help on the scoping and definition of projects so it’s very discreet, very much like consulting. Then there’s that next phase of after implementation is done, after the first 3 to 6 months, “how are you helping that customer be successful after that implementation?” I was really leveraging that implementation background at Anaplan to then take it to the next level and make something “sticky,” because that was something I missed out on while at Deloitte. You’re generally doing these implementations in these discrete projects and then you’re off to the next client and you’re not sticking around to see how it work out.

 

 

Ken Kanara: One of the things that you said which was interesting was that you kind of stumbled into or found customer success, which is something that we have seen a ton. It’s funny—it’s not a career folks immediately coming out of consulting go,  “I want to do customer success.” It’s more, “Oh,  I didn’t really realize there was this unique blend of consulting-plus-commercials, to a certain extent, but also, “By the way, I’m going to help this client of mine see long-term success.” It sounds like that was kind of your story as well.

 

 

Ken Hooten: Yes, very similarly. Some things that I’ve recognized since coming into customer success is that when you’re in consulting in the earlier years—associate consultant, manager, you’re really focused on what the processes are. You’ve discovering what the best practices are, how to consult—really functionally-oriented or industry-oriented. Once you get to later years of manager, senior manager, partner, principal, you’re really focused on relationship building, account management—much more of what I would say is the “sales attitude.” Which was really eye-opening for me, because I never really liked the sales work. I never really thought I’d be in sales or account management and I realized that in consulting you kind of make that transition from functional practitioner to account manager—people manager. Really, sales. Because once you’re at that partner-level your responsibilities are to deliver a great project and great outcomes for your client, but that’s all a means to selling your services. It’s made me realize that some of the best sales people that I’ve worked with and some of the best customer success people I’ve worked with are coming from consulting and approach sales from a consulting standpoint. They’re focused on, “What does the customer need?” “What is right for the customer?” If you do that then you’re building that trust—that pillar of the triangle you were talking about. It makes that whole process way easier because you’re not trying to climb uphill. You’re listening to the customer. You’re very much trying to solve their problems and in return they’re helping you to hit your goals. Whether that’s renewals, sales or whatever that might be.

 

 

Ken Kanara: I like to call it the “give a shit rule.” Do you actually give a shit? If you do, then it’s not rocket science. But if you don’t, if you shut down and don’t care about what’s happening on the other end people see through it. I’m laughing because I think it’s such a simple thing. I don’t know if it goes back to the golden rule that we learned in kindergarten but I think people are more observant then we probably even realize.

 

 

Ken Hooten: I would say so. I sat down with my father-in-law who was in sales his entire career and I was asking him about the keys to success when I came over into this role because it was so new being part of a sales organization. Some of the top keys are following up and doing what you said you would do. If you can do those two things you’re going to be able to build that trust, build those relationships, and that right there shows the empathy. The other piece there is being curious—asking questions. I think consultants are really good at those three pieces, it’s ingrained into us.  No matter what level you start at, it’s ingrained into a successful consultant to do those three things. That’s going to make you successful at almost any job, but especially so in customer success and sales.

 

 

Ken Kanara: Speaking of that, when you’re hiring and considering new folks for customer success roles, I’m sure we’ve touched on this, but what else you look out for?

 

 

Ken Hooten: First of all, I’m and individual contributor, I’m not hiring anybody myself. In a little bit of projection here, when I look at our customer success directors (CSDs) and our area vice presidents (AVPs), from an Anaplan standpoint, I think they’re looking at if you have planning skills. Have you done FPNA, supply chain planning, sales performance management…those hard skills. Have you done the analytics pieces—have you either worked with multidimensional tools or two-to-three dimensional tools? Multi-dimensional would be Anaplan, which is any number of dimensions that you want to create. Singular or double dimension is like an Excel or a Sequel or Tableau—those types of two-to-three dimensional tools. Have you worked in that space and then have you worked within a technical space doing implementations of any sort, such as agile project implementation methodology—those basics? Then, where have you been able to put that into practice—has it been with a company, has it been in consulting? Lastly, do you have the Anaplan “flavor” to the way that you work. Those are the key structures I think that we try to focus on.

 

 

Ken Kanara: That makes sense. Technical, planning, analytical—that sounds like a consulting profile. I think this bridges nicely to the next topic, which is your time at Deloitte. One of the things I think is most interesting about having you on the show is that you’re one of our first guests that started in “industry” and then went into consulting. You have a really unique perspective, because most of us did it the other way around, right? I’m curious to hear what kind of project worked on at Deloitte. Then, I would love to dive into what it was like to join Deloitte from “industry” and where you felt it was a different experience for you.

 

Ken Hooten: Absolutely. I left Nike to go to grad school. I went to grad school thinking that I wanted to grow my leadership capabilities, grow my educational capabilities and figure out what was next. I was very privileged and very thankful to have the opportunity to go to Deloitte. What was really attractive to me was working on different projects with a variety of customers and creating a depth and breadth of my skillset. Through that, I was able to work on merger acquisition type projects—day zero, day one through the lens of, “PE just bought this firm, how do we split up the supply chain from their old firm?” Then two, four-week assessments of “ This customer thinks that they have a problem in this space, let’s put a team together and go and evaluate where they’re at and create a maturity model and let them know short, middle and long-term what they need to work on to get better and/or to solve that problem.” More broadly and towards the end, it was very much working with their technology teams on big ERP implementations. “What are the best practices that the business should be adopting to enable an SAP or an oracle implementation to redo their entire technical suite?” I was coming at it from a business perspective, but very much working with the technology teams that both Deloitte and the customer to say, “How does the business need and requirement translate to the technology? How can the technology come and deliver that?”

 

 

Ken Kanara: So you’ve working in everything from M&A, supply chain, technology—that’s pretty broad. How long were you there?

 

 

Ken Hooton: Three-and-a-half years.

 

 

Ken Kanara: Three-and-a-half years…that’s a pretty good range of projects, right? We’ve heard folks who have said come on and said, “Hey, if you’re not proactive, by the way, at your consulting firm, you can get stuck on ten airline projects in a row.” How did you make sure that you got onto different stuff? Was it just luck?

 

 

Ken Hooton: I think it’s by being proactive. I think that’s great advice. I think there’s a little bit of luck. From my experience, and I can only speak from that, the biggest pieces that were beneficial to me were being curious and trying to connect with as many senior managers and partners as possible. Another beneficial move is speaking what you want—speaking up and saying, “I want to go do this versus this.” I had a handful of tough conversations where I was an oil and gas customer and a while in I was like, I don’t know if oil and gas is really the industry that I want to be working in. I had that difficult conversation knowing there was risk to it. If you tell a partner that you don’t to work in that partner’s industry, then that partner is not going to necessarily bring you into those projects, because that is the industry that they’re working in. So you have to be thoughtful about those types of requests or those wants and desires. Then, connecting with partners. I was very fortunate that our supply chain practice at Deloitte, when I was there, was a national practice. I wasn’t really constrained like some of the general practices, like the strategy practice, which are assigned to your office—to your local office. I had this bigger network across the US that I could connect with to work in different industries and work with different types of clients. Some analyst and consultants that I worked with were kind of stuck within their office and they were doing the special projects within their office, so it was kind of constrained to what partners were in that office. If that doesn’t work for you, then go work, meet and network with other managers, senior managers, principles, or partners that are in the industry that you want to go work in. Go to a side project with them, get to know them, show them your work ethic. most partners are willing to invest in somebody that they think is going to do a good job. If you can show and demonstrate that, it usually works out pretty well.

 

 

Ken Kanara: You’re bringing up a really interesting point that I don’t think it’s often discussed and you don’t realize it until you’ve left consulting. Consulting is this weird world of an overly- social work place. You don’t realize how good you had it until you’ve left consulting. Every single Friday there’s something going on—there’s some sort of social event. Afterwards, you get into, what I’ll call real life instead of saying “industry” now, but you get into real life and it’s not really like that.

 

 

Ken Hooton: Fridays roll around and people go home.

 

 

Ken Kanara: Exactly, they want to be with their families, right? If someone’s at a consulting firm, and wants to make the most of it so they can make a successful leap the way that you did—you talk about networking, you talk about the social environment…what advice do you have to folks in order to maximize that? I know you gave some specific examples, but how did you do a good job at networking and still make it natural?

 

 

Ken Hooton: I think being curious is the big thing—asking questions. The questions I like to ask are the “why?” “Why are you working in this industry?” “Why do you enjoy it?” “What do you enjoy about it?” This helps to really understand the person there, instead of just the work stuff. That was really helpful for me. I will caveat that to say that I’ve been very lucky. I will not say that I’m the best networker. I have fallen out of touch with a bunch of folks that I worked with, just because I haven’t followed up or we all get busy. Finding the folks that you can trust, that you want to be close with and who have similar ideals to you is super important. Then, taking the time to follow up with them is important. I probably haven’t done that enough. I know I haven’t. I have a really strong, but small network. That’s what works for me. Everyone’s got to go figure out what works for them. I have other friends that have really large networks and that’s what they enjoy and they do really well creating those networks.

 

 

Ken Kanara: That’s cool, thanks for sharing that. One of the other things I wanted to discuss is…you’re coming into Deloitte, you’ve spent time previously at Nike, in the “real world,” what was it like working with folks where this is maybe their first gig at a college and they’re getting that training right away, whereas you were coming in with a little bit more experience?

 

 

Ken Hooton: I feel really fortunate because I had seven years of business experience before going into my MBA, so coming into Deloitte I had some depth to my supply chain experience, hands-on, that was super beneficial. It allowed me to build trust with managers, senior managers, and partners very quickly because they understood that from a practitioner standpoint I could figure out the foundations without a lot of oversight. That made it way easier for me to find my way because I had that depth of practical experience. It also help me build trust with clients because I would be able to go back and leverage the stuff that I had done. At lot of times I had been in there shoes. Standing in front of a warehouse manager when you’ve managed a warehouse before is a lot easier than standing in front of a warehouse manager when you’ve never stepped into a warehouse before. For me, I had a different focus that allowed me to focus on the networking and figuring out the “why” and the “what” instead of just buckling down and focusing on the practitioner piece and the foundations.   

 

 

Ken Kanara: Did you have any challenges getting up the curve in terms of the structured thinking, that “everything’s a template,” and all of the “Consulting 101” toolkit?

 

 

Ken Hooton: A little bit. I think the hardest thing for me is creating that story in slides. I spent a lot of time doing that at Nike, though. Nike, first and foremost, grew up as a design and marketing backbone. Nike is known for storytelling.

 

 

Ken Kanara: The best in the world.

 

 

Ken Hooton: Exactly. Even when you’re in supply chain at Nike, you have to live by that ethos. You have to be a good storyteller. Yes, you need to know the foundations, but being a good storyteller is how you get things done. I had a lot of that structure. I had been able to be exposed to it a lot in prior experiences, so I think that helped greatly. MBA school forces that onto you with all the cases reading of HBR cases and etc., etc. Every single class was a case, so you have to build that structure and get into that mindset through school. That fed into the consulting that just continues to harp on that because that’s the way you’re successful. I’d say, in customer success, it’s the same structure that’s helpful now. It’s just continuing to carry that forward. My wife and I, we structure a lot of our conversations around decision making at home in that manner because we both have MBAs. For us, it just makes our life easier and it flows from business into personal and it’s just the way we operate.

 

 

Ken Kanara: I’m laughing because I often get scolded by my wife because she’ll say, “Can you stop talking to me like I’m somebody at work?” I’ll forget that I’m doing it. I’ll say, “Sweetheart, there’s three points here…” and she’s like “No, stop. I know there’s three points—there’s always three points and I don’t want to hear them.” Speaking of storytelling, one of things that were always trying to build up here is a Beyond Consulting library. You actually recommended a book to me before we even started which was about golf, but Ken what other books would you recommend for our listener base?

 

 

Ken Hooten: The golf book, off the top of my head is really good—“Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Dr. Bob Rotella. It’s about the psychology of golf. For me, personally, it fits in with business as well. What did I say to you earlier? There are some good shots that end up bad and there are some bad shots that end up great. I think that’s the same thing in business and anywhere you’re going. What I always come back to is “Do you understand the “why?” “Do you understand the process that got you there?”  and “How do you focus on what’s next?” That’s something I’d recommend, if you’re a golfer at least. Beyond that, my reading list is a lot of business books. Recently I read the story of the crash of WeWork. Bad Blood was just something I just unpacked—we’re in the middle moving, and I had to go back and chuckle. Reading books like to understand how things have either succeeded or failed helps me to understand that doing things the right way is really important to long-term success.

 

 

Ken Kanara: It’s funny…the golf book you recommended, the reason why I like that for consultants is because there are two things that are true about consultants. One is that we all tend to be perfectionist, and two, we’re insecure overachievers. Anything that can help us with those two issues is a good thing, regardless of whatever the topic might be. Ken I really appreciate you joining the podcast and sharing your story with our listeners. If we wanted to learn more about Anaplan…could you share the details about that?

 

 

Ken Hooton: Annaplan.com is our website.  Find me on LinkedIn—reach out. I think there’s a lot of free information about Anaplan on our website. Throw in your name and details…it should be okay if you put your personal email. If you’re at a consulting firm then most likely there’s an Anaplan practice, so do a little digging and a asking around. You’ll probably find some folks that know quite a bit about us.

 

 

Ken Kanara: Excellent, I will provide those links as well in the podcast description. For those of you joining us for the first time, if you want to be notified of future episodes make sure to subscribe on either Spotify or Apple. If you are looking for information on past episodes you can check out www.beyondconsulting.info and if you want to get in touch with me personally, check out www.eca-partners.com.  Until next week, Ken, thank you so much for joining us. For everyone else, I look forward to speaking and hearing you from next week.

 

 

Ken Hooton: It’s been a pleasure

 

 

Ken Kanara: thanks, bye-bye.

 

Published On: June 22nd, 2022|Categories: Beyond Consulting, Podcast|

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