If you've worked in sales or marketing, you've probably heard the term “account executive” from time to time. Yet despite its widespread usage, not everyone is entirely aware of what the role entails, much less the required skills and responsibilities.
In this guide, we share four things about account executives:
- What is an account executive
- What do they do
- 6 skills account executives need
- How to prepare for the role
Let’s dig in!
What Is an Account Executive?
In the most basic terms, account executives are normally responsible for building new relationships with prospects, while maintaining and growing relationships with existing ones.
To do this, they may organize social media campaigns, reach out to potential customers with a sales pitch, work with those prospects throughout their customer journey, renegotiate existing contracts, solve problems for existing customers, and much more.
In many cases, account executives are also involved in ensuring that once a new customer is secured, the team executes the details of the agreement precisely as they were laid out, meaning the account executive is involved in every step of the client acquisition and retention process.
You can find account executives employed in a wide variety of B2B and B2C businesses. That includes marketing agencies, pharmaceutical companies, construction firms, technology companies, and many more.
While the role is much more common in larger companies, some smaller companies with an extensive client list may also employ one or more dedicated account executives.
Account Executive vs. Account Manager
Although account managers and executives share many of the same duties and responsibilities, account managers focus almost exclusively on existing customers and act as a point of communication between customers and the company.
On the other hand, account executives act in more of a sales role and focus on networking, building relationships, and even attracting new business in certain settings.
Account Executive Duties:
- Acquire new clients through networking
- Play a limited yet essential role in the management of current clients
- Represent the company during sales calls and client meetings
- Ensure all agreed-on contract details are carried out correctly
- Negotiate new contracts and agreements with existing clients
- Manage a lead pipeline of prospective clients
- Train junior staff members and sales team on the sales process
- Walk new clients through the buying process
- Cold call potential clients
Account Manager Duties:
- Serve as the main point of contact between customers and the company
- Offer new products or services to existing clients
- Deal with any complaints, issues, and general client feedback
- Maintain positive client relationships
- Manage and meet sales quotas
With that being said, let’s take a look at two different types of account executives:
- Junior Account Executive
- Senior Account Executive
What is a Junior Account Executive?
As you may have guessed, a junior account executive operates in a support role to a more senior account executive. On an average day, a junior account executive may help by tracking down new client leads, following up with prospects, or carrying out any other required tasks for building and maintaining customer relationships.
In the typical corporate structure, the junior account executive will report directly to one or more senior staff members. While they are involved in the client acquisition process, they are less likely to hammer out the details of new deals.
What is a Senior Account Executive?
A senior account executive is responsible for all the tasks and duties outlined in the section above and acts primarily in a salesperson role. In other words, they work on closing the deals.
It is the senior executive who is responsible for speaking directly with qualified leads and negotiating the terms of any new agreement.
What’s Included in an Account Executive Role?
Now that we've covered the essentials of what the role looks like, it's worth taking a moment to examine in greater depth exactly what a typical employer expects of their account executives.
1. Close New Deals
Perhaps the most well-known duty of an account executive is sales. Without sales, a company can't grow and expand, and the responsibility of closing new deals rests primarily on the shoulders of the account executive.
To bring in clients, some account executives go through a prospecting and communication process. Client prospecting involves using various networking methods to find businesses or clients who have a need they can fill. In some cases, they can even use different sales tools to bring in leads. Once they identify a lead, they contact a representative and put their salesperson skills to work.
In other businesses, account executives may primarily work with the leads provided by the marketing team in the form of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) or sales qualified leads (SQLs).
Additionally, in some product-led businesses where the product takes the lead in customer acquisition, the focus of account executives turns to connecting with leads who’ve used the product, perhaps walking them through additional features, or introducing them to more options via up-sells or cross-sells.
Regardless of the business model, account executives' primary goal still revolves around closing new deals or growing the existing customer base
2. Grow Existing Accounts
While maintaining specific accounts and meeting customers’ needs is an integral part of business, it's not enough for most employers. As a result, many account executives are expected to consistently grow existing accounts by getting them to increase their level of service or by selling them more products.
To do this requires a curious mind, as successful account managers must be able to intimately understand a client's business model and use this understanding to look for gaps in service that they can fill.
At PhoneBurner, we take a different approach. For us, this is a team effort across departments. For example, our account executives primarily focus on closing new deals. But our customer success team helps with onboarding and growth after a new customer signs up. In this team effort, the role and responsibilities between the two teams are clearly defined, which makes it easier for everyone to know what’s expected.
3. Fight Against Competitive Threats
Competition in business is fierce, and an account executive has to make sure that a competitor doesn't move in and poach a client with a better offer. A big part of this involves staying up-to-date with what the company's main competitors are offering in terms of services, products, and price.
If the account executive isn't in a position to match a competitor price-wise, it's up to them to differentiate and show value, convince the customer that the extra cost is still worth it, and to encourage them not to switch.
Pro tip: Provide your account executives with up-to-date competitive analysis, and regularly update this information. This way, as your team members interact with customers on a daily basis, they’ll have the know-how to handle the prospects' most common questions and objections.
What is more, there’s a good chance your team regularly deals with 3–5 competitors in their sales presentation. At first, you don’t have to worry about knowing what every competitor offers, the pros and cons of each, and their price point. Focus on clarifying how you stack up compared to the competitors your team regularly faces.
4. Collect and Analyze Relevant Data
The negotiation process with a prospect or lead is an interesting one. Both sides are looking for a deal that works for them, something that can only be accomplished if a mutually beneficial arrangement is created.
An account executive must know what they can and can't offer, so they are constantly analyzing data, spreadsheets, and industry trends to ensure any deal they make is still in the best interest of their employer.
6 Skills an Account Executive Needs to Succeed
Each job requires its own range of skills, and an account executive is no exception. Those hoping to succeed in an account executive role should possess the following:
- Sales Experience:
Sales skills are an essential component of being an account executive.
- Exceptional Communication Skills:
It’s no mystery why so many account executives hold communications degrees. The fact is, sales and customer service is a communication-based affair, and anyone looking to succeed in this role must be able to talk the talk.
- Analytical Skills:
As noted above, account executives have some liberty over what deals and prices they can give to potential clients during the negotiation process. That being said, they need to possess top-notch analytical skills to know what deals make sense and which ones don't. They simply need to be able to process the appropriate information to determine how they can generate the most profit for their company while still offering great value to their customers.
- Account Management Skills:
Most account executives have prior experience as junior account managers or executives. It’s in these roles that they learn how to manage accounts.
- Problem-Solving Skills:
Much of sales breaks down to offering someone something they need or want at a price they can afford. Constructing and delivering a good pitch requires the account executive to see problems from the client’s perspective and to develop a solution that will be attractive and makes sense for them.
- Management Skills:
Because account executives will be overseeing several accounts and junior staff members, they must have some management experience if they wish to be effective.
What's It Like to Be an Account Executive?
Being an account executive is a challenging yet rewarding position suited for highly motivated individuals with excellent communication skills.
The average day will begin by reviewing any emails or messages left by current customers or leads. After that, it’s either off to the races by reviewing and working on your lead funnel or delegating tasks to a junior-level team member.
Throughout various parts of the day, an account executive will inevitably participate in sales calls with current and potential clients, hoping to land a new contract or expand on an existing one.
Toward the end of the day, they may take some time to analyze sales figures, company data charts, and any other information necessary to create sales targets and adjust price points.
How to Become an Account Executive
The first step in becoming an account executive may involve getting a bachelor's degree in business or communications. While a university degree is not always required, many employers require applicants to have at least four years of post-secondary experience if they wish to have their application considered.
After that, anyone wishing to make their way to the position of account executive will have to start in a junior role. This is a great time to gain experience in sales and learn, while still being in a position of lesser responsibility.
After a few years, those who have shown an aptitude for sales and customer acquisition/retention can apply to fill any account executive positions that may have opened up, either with their current employer or with another.
Hire A Great Account Executive
All-in-all, an account executive role is an excellent fit for anyone who is detail-oriented, possesses strong communication skills, and has a knack for making a sale. Perhaps the most enticing aspect of the job is the ability to earn sales commission on top of the base salary, something that can prove to be very financially lucrative for the right individual.