Who is an Account Executive?
Account executives are often the face of a company, the ones who meet with prospects and customers, and the people others in their company rely on to close deals. If you’re in sales, one of the things you need to know about managing that pipeline top-to-bottom is who’s involved in each step of the process. As an Account Executive (AE), one of your many responsibilities is to manage your own pipeline top-to-bottom – but for yourself.
The definition of a pipeline is a list of people who are in various stages of the process of moving from lead to customer. So for example, when someone first reaches out to you about buying a product or service, they’re at the top (or head) of your list and they’re considered a lead. If you decide to talk to them about what you’re offering, they move down a notch on the list and become a prospect. If they purchase your product or service, they’re a customer.
You need a plan to move from Lead to Customer as efficiently as possible.
In this post, we will discuss how to identify your own value proposition, so that you can be an Account Executive who knows why someone should buy from you. (And if you’re already an Account Executive, it’s never too late to start managing your own pipeline).
What is the role of an Account Executive in the Sales process?
You know that every sale begins with someone taking action. In this case, it’s a prospect reaching out to you by phone, email, or in-person. Maybe they’ve heard about your company or product from a friend, colleague, or customer. Maybe they found your website or business card on the street, and are curious enough to inquire about what you do.
The first step in managing your own pipeline is to ask yourself how you can make prospects like this more likely to reach out to you.
It’s easy to assume that if they’re going to take action any way they might as well come straight to you. But here’s the thing about prospecting: your company already has a large marketing budget, and all of it’s directed at the specific people who’ve reached out to you.
So, the first step in managing your own pipeline is to make sure you’re on that list. That means identifying those areas where you could offer value that you wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for a prospect reaching out to you.
Think about the people who reached out to you as potential customers first.
Think about your customer characteristics (what they’re like, what their interests are, what their problems are, and so on). Then think about your company’s customer characteristics (what they’re like, what their interests are, what their problems are, and so on).
In some cases, you may be able to combine the results from both of those lists into one. For example, if you’ve identified the right customer characteristics for one of your prospects and you’re also good at identifying the right customer characteristics for your company, you may be able to offer them a packaged deal that includes both.
And always keep in mind that prospects who are looking for a specific product or service are often concerned about price. So trying to make sure they don’t get taken advantage of is key.
You do that by finding ways to be a more informed and wiser buyer and a better (and more price-conscious) customer than your prospect.
For example, if your prospect is looking for cloud hosting, you might offer to host their website on your own servers while negotiating for the best price you can get. That may not be the most profitable option in the long run, but it’s much less risky than saying “I’ll host their site for them”; and that may lead to a sale anyway.
If you can provide a more informed and wiser buyer, they’ll be less likely to take advantage of you, and as a bonus, you’ll be able to negotiate for a better price.
If you can provide a better customer than your prospect will ever be, they’ll be more likely to do business with you instead of their own newly-hired in-house IT department.
It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
For example, if you represent an accounting firm, and someone who’s looking for a business to handle their books reaches out to you, you might want to be an even better customer than they are. So you’ll offer to do more of the work that they’re going to ask an internal accountant about.
That way, when they pick your firm for their business, you’ll be more likely to get the work. Your internal accountant will be impressed that you asked them about doing the work of their own in-house accountant at a fraction of the cost. And you’ll be happy because it will save your company money (and make more money for you).
And if your initial tips and tricks only lead to one or two customers, that’s okay. Again, one or two prospects are better than none. But if it leads to more prospects, you’ll have more opportunities to go deeper and gain more knowledge. You’ll gain knowledge by going deeper, which will then allow you to better serve your current customers, and even find new ones.
And the more prospects you’re able to identify for your ideal customer (or some type of package deal that’s attractive to both customers), the more opportunities you’ll have for being a better buyer and a better customer than your potential sellers. So don’t be discouraged if you only get one or two prospects at first.
Responsibilities of an Account Executive
In addition to the above, Account executives are also responsible for:
- Creating and managing client accounts.
- Managing relationships with existing clients.
- Keeping up to date on industry trends and changes in the marketplace, as well as general news.
- Seeking and maintaining relationships with other vendors, suppliers, and customers.
- Going to “networking” events to meet new prospects and cultivate existing ones.
- Providing follow-up on existing prospects.
- Negotiating new contracts, including what a seller can do for your current client as well as the package deal for the potential clients you’re looking to acquire.
- Assisting and mentoring junior account executives and sales representatives in the proper tasks needed to do their job successfully and efficiently.
- Providing information about new products that a client might want to purchase, and keeping up with industry trends related to the services they offer.
- Providing information about technology and software that a client might want to purchase, and keeping up with industry trends related to technology and software.
Key Skills and Competencies
Top 7 skills that an Account Executive needs are:
- Communication skills, to ensure that the client is receiving a high level of service.
- Listening skills, to ensure they are getting the proper meaning from what is being said as well as what isn’t.
- Interpersonal skills, to ensure that they are maintaining relationships with their existing clients as well as their prospects and leads.
- Skills to manage their time effectively and sufficiently in order to make sure that all deadlines are being met.
- Good organizational skills so they are not only able to organize their own work, but help other junior account executives do so as well.
- Analytical skills to ensure that they are able to evaluate quickly what they know and gather information to make the proper decision.
- Decision-making skills in order to make sure all business decisions are being made appropriately.
A salesperson can be a career for someone who enjoys sales and promoting products or services that they find interesting or believe in. A salesperson may also work in a commission-based position, where their earnings are based on the number and size of deals they close.
Learn more about the top skills needed in technology sales here
Career progression in Sales
Account executives usually have the opportunity to move up into management positions within a company. Management is a huge career path for an account executive because it shows that they are capable of doing the job required as an executive, which is guiding and leading a team of people into success.
Because an account executive must be familiar with a variety of products or services and their importance to a company, an account executive also has the potential to become a sales manager or director. Sales managers usually supervise other sales employees who are either working on the administrative side of sales or out in the field meeting face-to-face with customers.
The typical career progression to be a sales leader in technology organizations is as follows:
Sales Representative > Account Executive>Sales manager > Sales Director > VP of Sales > VP of Sales and Marketing
To summarize, Account executives are an integral part of the sales organization because they maintain client relationships. In the new area of online sales, account executives may still be seen because they are responsible for ensuring their clients receive a high level of service through email, phone, or another online means.
Account executives can learn from an array of sources, but most notably from their manager and other experienced account executives. Account executives should read a variety of business journals and business books to stay up to date on industry trends and change. Knowledge of CRM systems such as Salesforce and other sales tools useful to account executives is also extremely beneficial. Because of the importance of the account executive role to both existing and potential customers, account executives are allowed a certain degree of latitude in how they deliver their product or service.