Everything You Need to Know About Being an Account Executive
The role of Account Executive is common in sales teams, but it can be a bit confusing. It’s not a “traditional” executive role – it’s not part of the C-suite – and different organizations define it in different ways.
Broadly speaking, it’s a sales position. However, there’s more to it than that, because account executives don’t spend all their time selling a product or service.
In this guide, we’ll cover what the role of Account Executive entails, as well as key skills needed to be successful in the position and tips for landing the job.
What Is an Account Executive?
An account executive’s primary responsibility is to support an organization’s client accounts. They’re generally the first or second person within an organization to handle the account, possibly after the front-line sales rep.
They’re often responsible for closing deals once a lead has been qualified and nurtured by a lower-level salesperson.
Once they’ve made contact, it’s up to the account executive to manage that account by:
- Building the relationship
- Identifying up-sell and cross-sell opportunities
- Handling contract renewals
What Does an Account Executive Do?
As I mentioned before, an account executive isn’t a traditional “executive” in that they don’t usually manage a big team or report to the board.
Instead, they play a leading role in establishing and developing client relationships. However, the specifics of the role can vary depending on the organization:
- In some organizations, the account executive is the person who actually finalizes a sale with a prospect
- In others, they may be responsible for identifying new prospects, and potentially for guiding those prospects through the whole sales process
- Alternatively, they may get involved immediately after the deal has been closed, helping to onboard the new client and identifying upsell possibilities down the line
While they spend most of their time working directly with clients, account executives may also communicate with account managers, sharing relevant information that will help the account managers take control of the account.
What Are an Account Executive’s Main Tasks & Responsibilities?
Given that their role in the sales process varies from one organization to another, an account executive’s roles and responsibilities can also be pretty wide-ranging.
However, they’ll typically include things like:
- Identifying potential target accounts through online and offline networking
- Creating (and potentially delivering) effective sales presentations and pitches
- Building and nurturing client relationships
- Hitting sales targets
- Resolving client issues and queries that crop up before the deal has closed
- Seeking out opportunities to upsell and cross-sell existing accounts
- Understanding and satisfying client needs and challenges
- Finding key trends through data analysis
- Handling negotiations and overcoming potential concerns
- Staying up to date on industry trends and company products/solutions
Account Executive vs. Account Manager: What’s the Difference?
The distinction between these roles isn’t always straightforward, especially considering that some organizations merge them into one position.
On the surface, the account executive and account manager roles are pretty similar: they both work directly with clients, and they’re both about building stronger relationships.
However, while the overarching end goal – delivering more revenue for the business – is the same, their key focuses are quite different.
Account executives typically get involved much earlier in the process than account managers. They may be the first person to make contact with a new account, guiding the prospect down the sales funnel until they’re ready to convert, and potentially closing the deal themselves.
By contrast, account managers don’t get involved until after the contract has been signed.
At this point, the prospect has become a full-fledged customer, and the account manager steps in to manage the relationship – hopefully for the long term.
However, there may still be some overlap between the two roles even after the account manager has stepped in. For instance, the account executive might be involved throughout the onboarding process, and may take the lead on initial upselling and cross-selling opportunities.
What Skills Does an Account Executive Need?
We’ve established that an account executive’s responsibilities can vary widely, so it’s not surprising that to thrive in the role, an account executive must hone a wide range of skills and characteristics. Some of the most important include:
- Communication: This is fundamental. You’ll constantly be in contact with different prospects, leads, and accounts, all of whom will have their own communications preferences. You’ll need to adapt your comms accordingly.
- Empathy: Can you put yourself in the prospect’s shoes? Do you understand the pain points they’re feeling and their desire to resolve them? If so, you’re more likely to foster strong relationships.
- Problem-solving: You’ll come across a bunch of problems in any given day. To maintain momentum on a sale, you can’t always afford to spend a week planning your response or talking through the issues with your manager.
- Organization: The average account executive’s day can be pretty intense, involving a lot of different activities, so you need to be organized and manage your time effectively.
- Negotiation: Leading negotiations is a skill in itself. You need to identify objections before they arise and come up with ways to resolve them, while still landing the best possible deal for your organization. It’s not just about giving the client everything they want.
- Determination: An account executive needs to be determined to get results. It’s all about seeing the end goal and focusing on reaching it.
Overall, just like any other sales role, account executives need to be prepared to put in the hours in order to stay competitive and get results.
How Much Do Account Executives Earn?
Just like other aspects of the account executive role, the salary and commissions potential can differ depending on the industry and organization.
According to Glassdoor, account executive salaries in the US start at around $39,000 a year and can go as high as $95,000, with an average base salary just over $60,000.
Tips for Landing an Account Executive Job
Like with most jobs, there’s no universal approach to getting a role as an account executive. You absolutely need to adapt to the organization you’re applying for.
Given the wide range of account executive roles and responsibilities, it’s important that you closely scrutinize the job specification to ensure that you understand exactly what is expected. If anything is unclear, don’t be afraid to ask the recruiter or hiring manager before you apply.
Similarly, company culture is an important consideration. Some organizations are more casual, while others are much more formal, so you’ll always want to adapt your tone to match theirs.
Beyond those general pointers, here are some more specific do’s and don’ts to consider when applying for an account exec job:
- Use real-world examples: When it comes to discussing your experience, show, don’t tell. In other words, don’t just tell them how great you are at communicating, or how brilliant you are at nurturing relationships – give practical examples of when you’ve put those skills into practice in the past.
- Practice common sales interview questions: You should be able to anticipate the majority of questions you’ll be asked. These may include: Can you talk me through your sales experience? Why did you choose a career in sales? What’s a mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it? Prepare answers and go over them several times.
- Speak with confidence: Interviews can be nerve-wracking, but this is a sales job. If you can’t get your point across clearly and with confidence, that doesn’t inspire much faith that you’ll be able to get results in the “real world.”
- Ask questions yourself: You want to demonstrate that you’re interested in this specific role, not just looking for any job as an account executive. One of the best ways to do that is by asking questions about the job. What do the progression opportunities look like? What training can you expect to receive? What are the biggest challenges you’ll face?
- Leave anything to chance: You might be a naturally confident person, but don’t expect your charm and improvisational ability to get you the job. Sales isn’t all about talking a good game – you need to work hard, too. So don’t go in under-prepared.
- Be late to phone, video, or in-person interviews: If you got the job, a client likely wouldn’t appreciate you turning up late to a pre-arranged meeting. So it sets a bad precedent if you arrive late for an interview.
- Just talk about yourself: Sales isn’t a one-way conversation. You build rapport by striking up back-and-forth discussions with prospects. So don’t be afraid to do the same during the recruitment process.