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Hiring Account Executives (AEs) - a comprehensive guide

Sales is a highly sought-after profession, with sales and related occupations being held by over 14 million of the 147.7 million employed US citizens, making up almost 9.5% of the country's workforce! There are various sales positions available across industries, including retail, automobile, insurance, real estate, advertising, and inside sales. These positions come at different levels with different job titles, such as Sales Development Representative (SDR), Account Executive (AE), and Account Manager (AM).

The goal of this blog post is to provide a comprehensive overview of Account Executives (AEs).

What is an Account Executive (AE)?

An account executive is a professional responsible for managing a company's relationships with its clients. They act as the primary point of contact between the company and its customers, ensuring that clients receive high-quality service and that their needs and expectations are met.

In most cases, account executives work in sales, marketing, or advertising, and their main responsibility is to maintain and develop relationships with clients to drive revenue growth for the company. They may be responsible for identifying new business opportunities, creating sales strategies, and negotiating contracts.

Successful account executives are typically skilled communicators, able to build strong relationships with clients and effectively convey the value proposition of their company's products or services. They are also highly organized, able to manage multiple projects and priorities simultaneously, and skilled problem solvers who can think creatively to overcome obstacles and meet client needs.

What's the difference between Account Executives (AEs) and Account Managers (AMs)?

Account Executives (AEs) and Account Managers (AMs) are both professionals responsible for managing a company's relationships with its clients, but sometimes there is a confusion surrounding their individual roles. The key differences between AEs and AMs roles are:

Account Executives are typically responsible for acquiring new business and developing new client relationships.

They are often focused on driving revenue growth and closing new deals. AEs typically work closely with the marketing and sales teams to develop new leads and prospects, and they may be involved in creating sales strategies, negotiating contracts, and identifying new business opportunities. AEs are often more focused on the sales cycle and may move on to new clients once the deal is closed.

Account Managers, on the other hand, are responsible for managing existing client relationships and ensuring that their needs and expectations are being met.

They are often focused on client retention and satisfaction, and may be responsible for upselling or cross-selling additional products or services. AMs work closely with their clients to understand their goals and challenges, and may be involved in developing solutions to address their needs. AMs are often more focused on building long-term relationships and may work with clients for years.

In summary, AEs are more focused on acquiring new business and closing deals, while AMs are more focused on managing existing client relationships and ensuring client satisfaction. Both roles are critical to the success of a company's sales and marketing efforts, and many companies have both AEs and AMs on their team to cover both aspects of client management.

What are the roles and responsibilities of Account Executives (AEs)?

The roles and responsibilities of Account Executives vary depending on the industry, company, and specific job title, but generally, their main objective is to drive revenue growth by acquiring new clients and expanding business with existing ones. However, there are five main responsibilities common to any AE, let’s briefly discuss each of them:

  1. Grow Accounts - The opportunity to grow a customer’s account often arises when there are significant client events, such as a company acquisition, a new round of funding, or the hiring of a new executive. Simply managing existing accounts and reacting to customer needs isn't enough. It's also important to proactively create opportunities. A proficient AE achieves this by empathy and curiosity. Additionally, leadership ties account executives to goals around account retention and growth. For example, an account executive's goal might be to grow an account by 15% next year. That 15% growth is what their commission should be tied to. An account executive might be paid for new sales but only if they've met their requisite retention goals.
  2. Eliminate Competitive Threats - Given that Account Executives interact with numerous individuals, it's crucial for them to remain aware of competitors. A key responsibility of AEs is to prevent competitors from contacting businesses with which they have no preexisting relationship. The questions AEs keep in mind to avoid poaching of their clients like are they working with a team you've never spoken to? Do they have an offering your company does not? If the answer to either of these questions is, “yes,” AEs take immediate action to open a dialogue with out-of-reach teams, and work with products to build these offerings into a roadmap.These proactive steps benefit the customer and the vendor. They're a lot of work, but this type of strategic thinking is how great AEs grow accounts and stay one step ahead of the competition.
  3. Maintain Customer Satisfaction - Documentation is key to success here. Whether quarterly or monthly, AEs seek regular customer feedback on what their organization is doing as a vendor. These questions shouldn't only be about what's broken and how it can be fixed. They probe how the customer feels about the vendor on an emotional level. If AEs are given a bad grade, they resist the temptation to correct immediately. Since, it's important to understand how their company's performance and service has been contributing to this grade over the past weeks and months.
  4. Establish New Accounts -  An Account Executive's role extends beyond the realm of maintaining satisfied clients. In line with their company's sales objectives, they are also tasked with generating new business opportunities. To achieve this, Account Executives leverage their sales expertise and prospecting capabilities to attract fresh clientele and drive revenue growth. The best AEs are adept at strategically timing the acquisition of new accounts and projects in sync with expiring accounts, effectively mitigating revenue fluctuations.
  5. Collect and analyze data - In addition to their core responsibilities, an Account Executive can oversee the collection and analysis of relevant industry data, assisting your company in determining the optimal service mix and setting realistic growth targets. When seeking out new clients, Account Executives rely on data-driven decision-making. This analysis encompasses key insights into client behavior and lifecycle, industry trends, and growth prospects for each potential account. By leveraging this data, Account Executives can make informed decisions about the overall sales strategy of the company.

In summary, Account Executives are responsible for driving revenue growth by acquiring new clients and expanding business with existing ones. They manage the sales pipeline, develop effective sales strategies, build and maintain client relationships, negotiate contracts, collaborate with cross-functional teams, and complete administrative tasks.

What skills do Account Executives (AEs) have?

Account Executives require a combination of hard and soft skills to excel in their role. Here are some of the essential skills needed for Account Executives:

  • Sales skills: Account Executives should have strong sales skills to be able to prospect, build relationships, and close deals with potential clients.
  • Communication skills: They should be excellent communicators, both verbally and in writing, to be able to effectively convey their message to clients, team members, and other stakeholders.
  • Customer service skills: Account Executives need to be able to provide excellent customer service to clients, understand their needs, and provide solutions to their problems.
  • Strategic thinking: They should have the ability to think strategically and develop effective sales strategies that align with the company's goals and objectives.
  • Relationship building: They should have strong interpersonal skills and be able to build and maintain long-term relationships with clients.
  • Negotiation skills: Account Executives should be able to negotiate effectively to reach mutually beneficial agreements with clients.
  • Analytical skills: They should be able to analyze sales data and market trends to identify new opportunities and make informed decisions.
  • Time management: They should have excellent time management skills to be able to manage multiple projects and priorities simultaneously.
  • Adaptability: Account Executives should be adaptable and able to work in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment.
  • Teamwork: They should be able to work effectively with cross-functional teams and collaborate with colleagues to achieve shared goals.
In summary, Account Executives require a combination of sales, communication, customer service, strategic thinking, relationship building, negotiation, analytical, time management, adaptability, and teamwork skills to succeed in their role.

What tools and technologies do Account Executives (AEs) use?

The most successful Account Executives (AEs) aren’t just smart and driven. They also know how to make efficient use of their time, and stay on top of client relations. Of course, using the right tools makes these tasks a lot easier. Here are seven indispensable tools every AE has in the arsenal:

Remote Presentations/Video Conferencing applications - The ability to communicate with prospects and clients remotely is critical for sales success. All AEs should have at least one application for video conferencing. Ideally, the tool should enable screen sharing so that you can give a presentation or live demonstration remotely. Some of the tools which satisfy these conditions are:

  1. GoTo Meeting 
  2. Zoom
  3. TeamViewer
  4. Skype

Pipeline Management Tools - A good pipeline management tool can show you what opportunities are in the pipeline, which are most likely to close, and what specific actions you should take next in order to close the deal. By using a pipeline management tool, AEs simplify administrative tasks, forecast future sales results, and identify possible weak points in your pipeline. Some examples include:

  1. Zoho 
  2. Salesforce
  3. Pipedrive CRM
  4. Salesfusion
  5. Insightly
  6. Insight Squared

Quote and Proposal Creation Tools - One way to save time is to automate the process of creating quotes and proposals for prospective clients. Instead of wasting time going through spreadsheets and crunching complex calculations, AEs use quote and proposal creation tools. These tools will automatically generate quotes based on the information you input, allowing for revisions as necessary. Some of them are:

  1. Qwirl
  2. Proposify
  3. Salesforce CPQ
  4. seProposals
  5. PandaDoc

Contracting and e-signature tools - Experienced sales professionals know that sometimes, the seemingly simple process of getting a contract signed can hold up a deal for weeks, or longer. E-signature software solves the problem by enabling you to send contracts–and for your clients to sign them–without having to deal with paper contracts. And e-signature tools aren’t just major timesavers, they also save money on printing and shipping costs. Most e-signature tools enable templates, sending contracts via email, and tracking of signing status. Some tools use a monthly subscription model, while others charge per document. Some of the best e-signature tools are:

  1. DropboxSign
  2. eSignLive
  3. DocuSign
  4. Fluix
  5. eversign

Sales forecasting software - Many AEs spend a great deal of their time on sales forecasting, yet may still fall short of making accurate forecasts. Sales forecasting software makes the process both faster and more accurate. A good software application can even offer users tips on how to improve sales, using data from past and current deals. Complex CRM programs often offer sales forecasting features, but some sales professionals prefer specialized software. Good sales forecasting programs include features for creating visualizations, generating reports, comparing data against previous performance and industry averages, and more. Sales forecasting tools include:

  1. Adaptive Insight
  2. WebEngage
  3. NetSuite
  4. Accelo
  5. Copper

Project Management platform - A good project management platform allows AEs to remain in close communication with colleagues without having to deal with onerous email chains. Project management platforms also enable AEs to assign tasks to team members and send automated reminders. Additionally, project management softwares are useful for staying in contact with clients and multiple stakeholders. Many project management platforms are available for free. Some of them are:

  1. Asana
  2. Trello
  3. Basecamp
  4. Microsoft Project
  5. ClickUp

Social Media Management Tools - Social media management tools can help sales professionals to streamline their social media feeds. Many tools include features for tracking and measuring other people’s engagement with your content, which is useful for identifying which accounts should be focussed on. Best of all, many of the most useful tools are free like:

  1. HootSuite
  2. Buffer
  3. MeetEdgar
  4. TweetDeck
  5. Raven

Having proficiency in these tools and technologies can significantly enhance an Account Executive's productivity, efficiency, and success in achieving sales targets.

What are some of the Related Job titles for Account Executives?

There are several job titles that are related to account executives, depending on the industry and the specific responsibilities of the role. Here are a few examples:

  • Sales Representative: A sales representative is responsible for actively seeking out new customers and selling products or services to them. They may work closely with account executives to identify potential leads and prospects.
  • Business Development Manager: Business development managers focus on identifying and pursuing new business opportunities for their company. They may work closely with account executives to develop strategies for expanding into new markets or industries.
  • Customer Success Manager: A customer success manager is responsible for ensuring that customers are happy with their products or services and are achieving their desired outcomes. They may work closely with account executives to identify potential upsell or cross-sell opportunities.
  • Territory Manager: A territory manager is responsible for managing a specific geographic region or territory and driving sales growth within that area. They may work closely with account executives to identify potential customers or opportunities within their territory.
  • Inside Sales Representative: An inside sales representative works primarily over the phone or online to sell products or services to customers. They may work closely with account executives to identify potential leads and prospects.
  • Client Relationship Manager: A client relationship manager is responsible for managing relationships with key clients and ensuring that their needs are being met. They may work closely with account executives to develop strategies for retaining and expanding business with those clients.
  • Sales Account Executive: A sales account executive is responsible for managing relationships with key accounts and driving sales growth within those accounts. They may work closely with other members of the sales team to identify potential opportunities and develop sales strategies.
  • Strategic Account Manager: A strategic account manager is responsible for managing relationships with the largest and most important accounts for their company. They may have a more strategic role in developing long-term plans for growing those accounts.
  • Key Account Manager: A key account manager is responsible for managing relationships with a select group of key accounts and driving sales growth within those accounts. They may have a more hands-on role in developing sales strategies and closing deals with those accounts.

These titles can vary depending on the organization and industry, but they all involve managing relationships with clients or customers and driving sales growth.

What is the compensation range for Account Executives (AEs)?

According to Indeed, the average salary of an account executive is $68,490 per year in the United States with $20,000 commission per year.  That said, the salary range is wide and hinges on a number of factors, including location, industry, and years of experience.

For instance, a small company may pay a junior account executive $40,000 or less, whereas a senior account executive working for a larger company in a high-paying industry such as software and health care could make $200,000 annually or more.

What is a good boolean search for finding Account Executives (AEs)?

A generic boolean search string around terms looks like:

  • -job -jobs -sample -examples, to exclude irrelevant results
  • (intitle:resume OR intitle:cv) to discover candidates’ online resumes or CVs
  • (“Account Executives” OR “support specialists”) to cover variations of the same job title

Here’s an example of a simple string to find resumes:

(intitle:resume OR intitle:cv) (“Account Executives” OR “Key Account Executives”) -job -jobs -sample -templates

With this search string, the words “resume” or “CV” have to appear in the page title. Adding variations of account executives job roles provides a larger number of relevant results. And, excluding more terms will reduce false positives.

Let’s look at what a final Boolean search looks like using the following fields:

  • Job title: (“Account Executive” OR “Key Account Executive” OR “Strategic Account Executives” OR “Territory Manager”) AND (“Senior” OR “Lead” OR “Team Lead”)
  • Sector: (“Telecom” OR “Finance”)
  • Tech Stack: Analytical thinking, Negotiation, Zoho CRM, Proposify, NetSuite, Pipeline CRM

The Boolean search string that can be created using the the knowledge we have gained and the aforementioned fields, applicable to any job board, would resemble the following:

(“Account Executive” OR “Key Account Executive” OR “Strategic Account Executives” OR “Territory Manager”) AND (“Senior” OR “Lead” OR “Team Lead”) AND (“Telecom” OR “Finance”) AND (“Analytical thinking” AND “Negotiation” AND (“Zoho CRM” OR “Pipeline CRM”) AND “Proposify” AND  “NetSuite”) 

Similarly, some of the complete boolean strings to find Technical Account Executives in a particular location, with specific skills etc. are:

  • Location  -  ("Account Executive" OR "Senior Account Executive" OR "Customer Relation Executive") AND ("Analytical” OR “Negotiation”) AND (“Seattle” OR “New Jersey” OR “Detroit”) NOT (“Junior”)
  • Budget AND sales AND ITIL, Strategic AND Key Account AND Team Management - (“Account Achievement Visionary” OR “Account Associate” OR “Account Consultant” OR “Account Executive” OR “Account Growth Manager” OR “Account Representative” OR “Account Specialist” OR “Business Developer” OR “Business Development Specialist” OR “Client Advisor” OR “Client Engagement Specialist” OR “Client Growth Specialist” OR “Client Success Consultant” OR “Client Success Manager” OR “Customer Engagement Representative” OR “Director of Sales” OR “Relationship Manager”)

By using Boolean search as shown above in combination with other research methods, you can greatly increase your chances of finding the right person for your project.

What are sample interview questions for Account Executives (AEs)?

Hard Skills

  1. Have you ever disagreed with your supervisor? Tell me about it.
  2. What will you do if a client calls you and tells you that they have found a new supplier and cannot work with us anymore? 
  3. Tell me your process for building a successful business relationship.
  4. What would you do if a prospective client gave you excuses not to buy?
  5. If you had to help multiple clients at the same time, how would you prioritize your work?
  6. Tell me about a time when you had to work with a dissatisfied customer.
  7. Tell me about a time when you reached a goal despite the odds being against you.
  8. Give me an example of a time when you solved a client's problem.
  9. What's your process for successfully negotiating a contract?
  10. How comfortable are you with CRM? Explain it in brief and the tools you use for CRM?

Behavioral / Soft Skills

  1. How is success measured in your current role as an account executive?
  2. How has your education prepared you for this role?
  3. What's your proudest accomplishment as an account executive?
  4. What's your experience with cold calling?
  5. What Are the Qualities That an Account Executive Should Possess to be Effective?
  6. Describe Your Daily Routine as an account executive?

About Rocket

Rocket pairs talented recruiters with advanced AI to help companies hit their hiring goals and knows technology recruiting inside out. Rocket is headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley but has recruiters all over the US & Canada serving the needs of our growing client base across engineering, product management, data science and more through a variety of offerings and solutions.

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