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Account Executive Career Guide: How to Become a Successful AE 

RepVue Editorial Team
RepVue Editorial TeamFeb 04, 2024

In sales, an Account Executive position is an exciting role where every challenge is a chance to grow, and every customer relationship helps you and your clients succeed. But success as an AE requires more than just sales expertise. It takes a mindset geared towards continuous learning and adaptation. And staying ahead means being agile, proactive, and client-centric.

Whether you’re already experienced in sales or just starting out, we’ve put together this career guide to help you become a successful AE. We’ll cover the various aspects of the Account Executive role, giving you insights into the essential skills required, such as advanced communication abilities, strategic thinking, and the knack for negotiation. We’ll also explore the day-to-day responsibilities that come with the role, which include but are not limited to client acquisition and retention, account planning, and achieving sales targets.

Check out open Account Executive roles here

What is an Account Executive?

An Account Executive is a sales professional who is responsible for bringing in new business for their company and launching new relationships with clients . You must also be able to effectively communicate the benefits of your offerings to potential clients and close deals to generate revenue for your company.

As an Account Executive, you play a critical role in the success of your organization. Most of the time, Account Executives will be focused on closing deals, whereas SDRs or BDRs are tasked with prospecting and cold outreach with the goal of setting up meetings or calls between qualified prospects and AEs. Account Executives mainly work with the other members of the sales teams, but can also be involved on the marketing and product side of the business, pending on the company you are at. 

Sales and Client Relations

One of the most important responsibilities of an Account Executive is to maintain strong relationships with clients. This involves regular communication to ensure that their needs are being met, and that they are satisfied with the products or services provided. Effective communication is key to building trust and establishing a long-term relationship with your clients.

As an Account Executive, you may also be responsible for identifying new business opportunities. This involves developing a deep understanding of your clients’ needs and identifying areas where your company’s products or services can provide value. 

Strategic Account Planning

In addition to maintaining strong client relationships, an Account Executive must also engage in strategic account planning. You’ll need to develop a deep understanding of your clients’ business objectives and work with them to develop strategies to achieve those objectives.

You must also be able to anticipate your clients’ needs and proactively suggest solutions to help them achieve their goals. This requires a deep understanding of your company’s products or services, as well as a thorough understanding of your clients’ industries and business models.

Qualifications and Skills to Become an AE

Educational Background

While there is no specific degree requirement to become an Account Executive, many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree. There’s no specific major or focus that’s required, but a degree in business, marketing, or a related field is a great choice. A degree in these fields will give you a solid foundation in business principles, marketing strategies, and sales techniques.

In addition to a degree, having relevant certifications can also boost your chances of landing a job as an Account Executive. For example, certifications in sales, customer service, and marketing can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the profession.

Essential Skills for Success

To excel as an Account Executive here are some essential skills that you should have:

  • Communication Skills: You need excellent communication skills to effectively talk to clients, understand their needs, and convey your ideas and solutions.
  • Negotiation Skills: You need to have strong negotiation skills to reach mutually beneficial agreements with clients and vendors.
  • Project Management Skills: You need to be able to manage multiple projects simultaneously, prioritize tasks, and meet deadlines.
  • Analytical Skills: You need to have strong analytical skills to analyze data, identify trends, and make data-driven decisions.
  • Customer Service Skills: You need to have excellent customer service skills to build strong relationships with clients and ensure their satisfaction with your company’s products or services.

For some AEs, these are skills that just come naturally. However, all of these skills can be taught and learned, and successful AEs work hard to improve across all of these areas.

Key Traits and Habits

There are many different types of people and personalities who can be successful in sales. Most successful salespeople have certain specific traits and habits in common. These include:

  • Strong work ethic: Sales is a numbers game, and you have to be willing to put in the work.
  • Ability to handle rejection: You will hear “no” far more often than you will hear “yes” — and you have to be able to move on and not take it personally.
  • Strong self-confidence: Sales people bet on themselves. Sales is one of the few professions in which compensation is directly tied to results. 
  • Balance of optimism and pragmatism: The best sales people believe that good things will come in the future — but they also steer clear of simply hoping for the best. Putting in the work is what will eventually deliver results.

Daily Responsibilities

Account Executives have a wide range of responsibilities to manage on a daily basis. These responsibilities can be broken down into two main categories: prospect and client meetings and sales goals and targets.

Prospect Client Meetings

Account Executives will have a lot of meetings with prospects and clients to discuss their needs and concerns. During these meetings, you will be expected to:

  • Ask questions with genuine curiosity. Open ended questions that allow the prospect to articulate their situation are best.
  • Listen to your prospects’ or clients’ concerns and provide them with solutions that meet their needs.
  • Provide updates on the progress of their projects and answer any questions they may have.
  • Build trust and rapport to ensure that they continue to work with your company in the future.

Sales Goals and Targets

Compared to many other functions and roles within a business, sales is uniquely goal-oriented. So much so, that almost all AEs and other sales professionals have pay structures with variable compensation based on quota attainment. 

As an Account Executive, meeting your sales goals and targets is your most important responsibility. To achieve this, you will need to:

  • Develop a deep understanding of your company’s products and services.
  • Identify potential sales opportunities and develop strategies to convert them into long-term partnerships.
  • Work with your team to ensure that your company’s products and services are delivered on time, on budget, and up to your clients’ standards.

Of course, that’s all easier said than done.

Challenges and Solutions

Dealing with Stress

Sales is stressful. Full stop. Because of the potential variability that is inherent in the role, Account Executives will have a wide range of success and failure throughout any given week, month or year. 

The best salespeople are good at compartmentalizing the stress that is inherent to the job. They try to distance themselves from the short term outcomes — and they remind themselves that if they consistently hit their activity targets, results will follow. They also remember not to associate their feelings of self-worth with their quota.

There are many effective ways to do this. A healthy lifestyle — including sleep, diet and exercise — can help salespeople establish a good foundation for health and can also help to relieve stress. It can also be helpful to be open with struggles and challenges that you are facing with a coach or mentor.

Client Retention Challenges

One of the biggest challenges you may face is retaining clients. Losing clients can be a major setback for any business, and it’s important to take steps to prevent this from happening. Some of the reasons why clients may leave include poor communication, lack of responsiveness, and failure to meet their needs.

To address these challenges, it’s important to establish clear lines of communication with your clients. Make sure they know how to reach you and that you respond promptly to their inquiries. Be proactive in addressing their needs and concerns, and make sure you are meeting their expectations. It’s also important to stay in touch with your clients on a regular basis, even when there are no immediate needs to address. This can help build trust and establish a stronger relationship.

Adapting to Market Changes

Another challenge that Account Executives often face is adapting to market changes. Markets are constantly evolving — especially so lately — and it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments. Failure to do so can result in missed opportunities and lost business.

It’s important to stay informed about market trends and changes. This can be done through research, attending industry events, and networking with other professionals in your field. It’s also important to be flexible and adaptable in your approach. This may mean changing your sales strategy or offering new products or services to meet changing market demands. 

By staying informed and being flexible, you can position yourself and your clients for success in a constantly evolving market.

Account Executive Salaries

As of January 2024, the median base salary across all Account Executive roles is $95,000 per year, with median on-target earnings of $180,000. 

Check out the most up-to-date AE salary information here

This number can vary significantly depending on the market segment: Small-to-Medium Business (SMB), Mid-Market, or Enterprise. Enterprise AEs earn the most, with a median base salary of $130,000 per year and median on-target earnings of $250,000 per year.

On-target earnings (OTE) refers to the amount you can earn if you hit your bookings or revenue targets. If you exceed your targets, you can earn even more. Some AEs report earning more than $1 million per year. The average quota attainment — or percentage of AEs who hit their targets — is currently 39.2%.

Do Account Executives make a lot of money?

Account Executives can make a lot of money. They are some of the highest paid people in any company, and many salespeople make as much or more than people in highly paid professions such as doctors or lawyers. That’s because they have the difficult job of bringing in revenue. In the right company, top performers can easily make more than $1 million a year.

How do Account Executives get paid?

Your total compensation as an Account Executive will be broken down into a base salary and commissions. Common practice in the industry is to have a 2x base OTE, which means if you have a base salary of $100,000, you can usually expect your total compensation  to be around $200,000. Oftentimes a quota will be about 5x OTE (e.g., a $200,000 OTE based on hitting a $1M quota). You can also earn multipliers and other bonuses if you hit certain milestones above quota. 

Do all Account Executives have a base salary?

Not all AEs will get a base salary. Sales roles without a base salary are referred to as “commission-only.” While this is common in some industries, most sales roles will have some sort of base salary.

How to Become an Account Executive

Most Account Executives begin their careers in entry-level positions such as Sales Development Representative (SDR) or Business Development Representative (BDR) roles.. These positions provide the opportunity to develop skills in sales and customer service, which are essential for success as an Account Executive.

Check out our guide on sales career paths

Advancement Opportunities

With experience and proven success, Account Executives will often progress from selling to SMB audiences to mid-market to enterprise customers. 

Alternatively, AEs can progress to more senior roles or even executive-level positions, such as group account director or regional sales vice president or Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). However, many Account Executives opt not to move into senior leadership roles because their earning potential can be higher as an AE.

To advance your career, it is important to continue developing your skills and knowledge. You can do this by attending industry conferences, participating in training programs, and networking with other professionals in your field.

In addition, earning a certification in sales can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to your profession. Some popular certifications for Account Executives include the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) and the Certified Sales Executive (CSE).

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