What is an Account Executive (AE)?
The main goal for an account executive is to close new deals.
They spend their days focused on driving new sales opportunities including getting on calls, sending follow-up emails, and occasionally meeting with prospects in person. They typically have a sales quota that they are responsible for hitting each month or quarter.
Pro Tip: Check out this great guide we wrote about how you can crush your sales quota.
In many SaaS, software and enterprise companies, account executives are often paired with a sales development representative (SDR). The SDR focuses on filling the sales pipeline and qualifying leads through social media, email (both 1:1 and drip campaigns), phone calls, and increasingly video messages. Then, once a lead is qualified, they pass it over to the account executive to close the sale.
Increasingly, AEs are also responsible for managing relationships with customers post-sale. However, the level of involvement post-sale varies wildly across industries.
For example, media account executives work as full-cycle sales reps. They are responsible for handling 100% of support and account management.
In other industries like technology, SaaS, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and financial services, their involvement post-sale is distributed between them, account managers, and customer service professionals. They are expected to check in regularly to make sure they are still satisfied with the company, look for upsell and cross-sell opportunities, and ensure they don’t churn to a competitor.
While the role has evolved, the position has been around for decades. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of account executive jobs are expected to increase by 7% by 2024.
AEs have at least five years of sales experience. According to Payscale, the average base salary estimate is $51,905 plus commissions and performance bonuses.
Most AEs start as SDRs or junior account executives. Then, they move into account executive positions — the best progress into senior account executive or director-level roles.
The starting annual salary ranges from $45,000 - $70,000 USD with performance bonuses.
|San Francisco, CA||New York, NY||Austin, TX||Chicago, IL||Los Angeles, CA||Denver, CO|
|Base | OTE||Base | OTE||Base | OTE||Base | OTE||Base | OTE||Base | OTE|
|$60-85K | $120-170K||$60-80K | $120-160K||$50-60K | $90-120K||$55-70K | $110-140K||$55-70K | $110-140K||$55-70K | $110-140K|
What are an AEs responsibilities?
Account executives play a critical role in the company. In many ways, they are the face of the company to customers.
Their core responsibilities can include:
- Preparing for sales calls including conducting research and building sales decks
- Jumping on calls, sending pitches and closing new deals
- Following up promptly with the leads that SDRs send over.
- Proactively managing the customer relationship post-sale including generating new referrals, spotting upsell and cross-sell opportunities and ensuring they don’t churn to a competitor
- Understand the features and benefits of the products and services that they are selling
- Attending team and department meetings
- Working with internal stakeholders to build out new features based on prospect and customer feedback
- Onboarding new hires including SDRs and junior account executives
- Producing regular sales performance reports
What the Hiring Manager is looking for in a AE
How to Hire an AE: Tips for Evaluating Candidates
AEs vs. Customer Success – Which Path is Right for You
3 Things to Know When Hiring Your First Salesperson
What does success look like for an Account Executive?
Most sales organizations measure their account executives based on a combination of sales performance (i.e. hitting a quota) and customer retention.
The sales quota is either measured in the number of deals closed or hitting a certain revenue number each month or quarter.
To ensure the deals closed are the right types of customers, a portion of an account executive’s commission or performance bonus is tied to customer retention. This can include whether or not a customer sticks around for a certain number of months, how satisfied they are with the level of service, and any upsell and cross-sell opportunities to increase a customer’s lifetime value.
Selling Tools for AEs
Crush Your Quota: 5 Strategies from Top AEs
5 Rules to Live by As an Account Executive
How NOT to do Social Selling – 5 Mistakes to Avoid
Who Sells Better – The Hunter or the Farmer?
Fishing for Whales: How to Land a Big Deal
How do I land my first AE job?
The average AE has a minimum of 5 years of sales experience.
Most account executives start as SDRs or junior account executives and become proficient at cold calling, cold emailing, and prospecting techniques. This also allows them to work closely with account executives and sales managers.
There are also many account executives, who transition into this role after spending time in account management or customer success positions. These roles are heavily customer-facing.
Another way to build sales experience is to work in sales for a small business (less than 10 people). It is not for everyone, but a great way to get a crash course in sales as you’ll be juggling a ton of responsibilities. You’ll also get a lot of experience working with the founder(s). These experiences can be invaluable when it comes to selling to big accounts.
Pro Tip: Check out this article for more tips for how to land a job as an account executive.
What skills do AEs need to possess?
Here are the essential skills and personality traits we look for when hiring Account Executives.
- Prior sales experience - Most account executives have at least 5 years of sales experience.
- Savvy negotiators - They are well versed in the psychology of sales and are comfortable negotiating high-stakes contracts (and renegotiating existing contracts)
- Excellent listener - The best salespeople ask great questions to understand their prospects’ needs and then help them find the right solution. They act as consultants who educate and inform their prospects rather than trying to hard sell them.
- Great communicator - You should be comfortable communicating on sales calls, leaving voice messages, writing emails, and giving in-person presentations.
- Self-aware - The best account executives have high emotional intelligence (EQ). They are realistic about your strengths and weaknesses, great at quickly building rapport and empathetic.
- Resilient - You are going to encounter rude prospects and hear a lot of “Nos.” Are they going to immediately shake it off and move on to their next call or sulk in the corner?
- Curious - Do they stay on top of industry trends, read sales books, and run experiments? Do they take the initiative to solve problems?
- Organized - Sales is a process. Account executives are juggling multiple priorities, whether it is working to close deals in the sales pipeline, managing existing customer relationships, or assisting internal stakeholders with projects.
- Self-confident - This goes hand in hand with resilience. You need to have the confidence to be able to chat with founders and c-level executives even if you are 30+ years younger.
- Self-motivated - Whether you are in back-to-back meetings, sending dozens of follow-up sales emails or just lost a big deal, you need to be able to motivate yourself through the ups and downs.
- Coachable - Do they seek out advice to get better at their job? Do they openly accept constructive criticism and use that to improve or do they get defensive?