Vanessa Dew of Health-Ade Kombucha: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”

Do you know your business could be much bigger than it currently is, but aren’t sure how to get there? I can help!

I can’t tell you how many times I avoid the ‘salesy’ people at the department store or those who make me feel uncomfortable in that regard. I think being authentic is one of the best ways to forge relationships. That can often lead to stronger credibility and may lead to a better ‘sale’ than something very forced. I do think salespeople need to think in opportunistic ways or have the mindset of wanting to win but manifesting how that all comes to be is often the determinant of success and being deemed too salesy or not.

As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Dew.

Vanessa Dew is the Chief Sales Officer & Co-Founder of Health-Ade Kombucha. Through her expertise in channel penetration and people management, Dew has led Health-Ade’s sales team to boost availability in key channels and markets, while cultivating the Health-Ade brand as a whole. The brand is now available in 30,000 stores including Whole Foods, Target and Trader Joes.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

For me, building a business and forging something new has always felt part of my DNA. Though I have a science background and thought I was going to follow the stereotypical path of becoming a doctor that so many Asian parents dream of for their kid, I chose a different route. I pivoted and started in pharmaceuticals on the sales/marketing side because I always felt like I wanted to help people through science. But what was really my calling was this idea of being able to imagine something for myself, create something, bring it to life, and scale it such that many people could benefit from the value of it — thus how Health-Ade was created but also scaled in record amounts of time.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I think a leader is only as good as their team. At Health-Ade, our team is second to none in my mind and continuing to develop and build on that is something I am always focused on. One amusing moment (among many) occurred during an interview of a potential candidate for a job at Health-Ade. I asked him, ‘What puts you above the rest in your mind for this role?’. His answer was, ‘Well, I’m male, pale and stale. So what that means is that I’ve been around the block for a long time, so I know what this game looks like, plus being male and pale, I’m pretty much able to fit in anywhere’. I was pretty speechless on different levels but my ultimate takeaway was that our culture at Health-Ade has been so special and a competitive advantage oftentimes. Hiring not just good people in their competency for the role but great people in all company culture aspects and the diversity with unique perspectives to take our brand to new heights really is the determinant of our future and will help take us to the next level.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

With the changing environment due to COVID-19, we want to make sure that we are reaching our consumers in ways that they haven’t been touched before. E-Commerce has always been around for Health-Ade, but we can make it more of a focus now and should be with the changing consumer purchasing habits. Additionally, we are working on some awesome innovation items to build out the Health-Ade portfolio that will continue to help people on a fundamental gut health level but also broaden our appeal so that more people can understand and access our brand.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Growing up, I always thought my parents, particularly my father, were the toughest critics around and nothing would meet their expectations. But as I come to realize and ultimately really grateful to them about a few things. First, instilling this idea of what hard work means and education. Traditionally, I always rejected the ‘should’ conversations about what’s expected of me. Being afforded the opportunities to access higher education and observe what hard work can get you has really helped shape how I think about things. Second, the idea of being self-made. My dad came to America with nothing to his name since communists had stripped everything from his family. Amidst all of that, he’s created a strong foundation for us, pivoted throughout his career to come out on top, and ultimately gave us the best life he could — in many ways, he is self-made and though not a traditional entrepreneur, has definitely worked to find opportunities and bring value creation to the forefront of his career/businesses. Lastly, the idea of celebration. Truthfully, my parents never indulged in this because they were always caught up in building a life for us. But seeing how they have been in this regard has allowed me to understand how I want to achieve success and it’s not through running a constant rat race but it’s the idea of celebration through people, with people, and ultimately for people.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

Working within the pharmaceutical world of sales/marketing and then building a business from scratch and building out the sales channels, customers, distribution definitely gives some perspective. But for me, it’s not only this experience but also this idea that I’m always learning and understanding what are new ways to do things that keep things fresh and our team/company on the forefront of besting ourselves.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Anxiety from the business level could come in many different forms. Offering support in this way may mean 1) Transparency and visibility to the business issues at hand and working with the team not outside of the teams to help gain clarity on the best next steps. 2) Remaining not just optimistic (because that may be a little tone-deaf given today’s uncertainty) but remaining proactive and acting in ways within our control to help guide the business to the next best step.

From a personal level, I find that compassion and being kinder to one’s self and others goes a long way. Being isolated and quarantined can often become detrimental to the human connection, so reaching out via FaceTime, Houseparty or any other video apps to stay in touch with loved ones has been a great way for me to stay connected even amidst physical distance. Lastly, having the faith and the fortitude to know that as a community and people, we can 100% get through this if we are united and overall having constructive conversations rather than destructive.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versalite topics, is totally ignored?

Fundamentally, the skills to be effective within sales are less tangible and there are varying schools of thought on how to drive performance. I don’t think there is a one size fits all rather it’s a toolkit that can be built over time. Oftentimes with traditional education, there has to be a process or a form that all of this fits into a nice box but unfortunately, there isn’t just one blueprint to be successful.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

I do 100% agree with this. I can’t tell you how many times I avoid the ‘salesy’ people at the department store or those who make me feel uncomfortable in that regard. I think being authentic is one of the best ways to forge relationships. That can often lead to stronger credibility and may lead to a better ‘sale’ than something very forced. I do think salespeople need to think in opportunistic ways or have the mindset of wanting to win but manifesting how that all comes to be is often the determinant of success and being deemed too salesy or not.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

Though I am very comfortable giving a presentation, I actually think handling objections may be my strong suit. Everyone will be a naysayer about something and I’ve definitely encountered times when rejection appeared imminent because of their objection. But being able to really listen to the concern, understand creative solutions to that pushback or that problem and having the ability to think outside of just the immediate ‘sale’ and talk through it has been very powerful.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

We view customers and consumers in two different views. In regards to CPG and targeting customers, there are traditional sales channels and distribution that make for an effective sale. Then there are some of the new customers in newer channels that we find out about through industry syndicated reports or just by being present in the marketplace that allows us to tap into new sales channels.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

It is hard and I believe that there are 2 things to help people get better at this. One is remaining as calm as one can be and not clam up or freak out(probably easier said than done) with an objection. It’s those times of freak out, you may not be able to address things fully or not focusing on the right things. Additionally, asking questions of the other person posing the objection is often the first start to understand how to overcome the objections. The initial objection may be a smokescreen or there may be another root cause for the issues and without teasing those out, addressing the objection is futile.

‘Closing’ is, of course, the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

First, a close doesn’t have to be a big grand close. Planning a follow-up or a planned next step and getting their commitment on that could be a win and ultimately a work-up to the final close. I remember a time where I got a customer to commit to just tasting Health-Ade (he was a devout non-kombucha drinker) and I would come back to talk about the health benefits and where he could see it in his store, etc. That commitment to try it ended up in being the closer because not only did he like the taste, he felt great after drinking a whole bottle and said he definitely wanted to bring it into his store.

Second, being reliable and following up with a customer question can be one step closer to getting to yes. There are a lot of flaky people in the world and the stronger credibility, and follow-through we can show to customers, the better we are in building the future business together.

Third, sometimes a close comes with negotiation and asks from the customer that is above and beyond what you are willing to move forward with all for the cause of getting the sale. It’s perfectly OK to use someone else as the ‘bad cop’ and say you’ll have to follow-up with them on the full package. Having a follow-up conversation and taking the time to think things through can often lead to better outcomes for both you and the customer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say, “I have to check with my board or CFO” before saying a full go.

Fourth, practicing or role-playing before the actual conversation to say out loud the words you’ll use in asking for the commitment is a way to get comfortable with the pitch and how it is positioned as not too salesly. Practice often makes perfect but just caution at seeming too ‘canned’. Closing has been tough for me but preparation around talking points, talking to myself in the mirror and building up confidence through role playing and also knowing we have a great product with a great partnership for the customer allows me to say those words with ease to get them to yes.

Lastly, going into the conversation, it’s good to know what your non-negotiables are. What’s your baseline to walk away because sometimes the sale just isn’t worth it. Sometimes walking away can lead to a sale too because they just can’t do without your product but having that confidence to know what those hard no’s are important to define from the outset.

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

Follow-up and execution is often the determinant to the final close. Not being too ‘desperate’ and allowing for time but also being proactive are important aspects to getting this over the goal line. There is a healthy balance to being pushy and too frequent in follow-up — it’s important to know that line.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

I think anything left to words on a page like email or text can be left open for interpretation and may not convey the human element as well. In-person or verbal on the phone/video commitments are the best but with a follow up confirmation in writing is probably best. For example, I could remember a time with Health-Ade where emails were going back and forth and it just seemed like things weren’t reaching finality. Turns out when I got that person on the phone, their impression of what was the scenario was different than what our team had been presented. Simply hashing out the details over the phone and regrouping on email with specifics led to a yes and that account is one of the biggest for Health-Ade today.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Especially during times of now when we really need community and coming together to get through our issues, I encourage people to do something kind either for yourself, for your customer, for your friend — something with no agenda but being nice. It’s a wonderful thing to feel that gift and it may spur on a movement that our community needs at this time.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram @v_dew


Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

Vanessa Dew of Health-Ade Kombucha: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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