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Account Executives – Insights on the top in-the-field sales role

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

What is an account executive (AE)? An account executive is the job title many organizations assign to your outside sales team members. They bring their impressive sales skills to bear to help your business achieve its sales targets.

The Account Executive roleIn this article, we will:

  • Briefly compare and contrast Account Executive and Sales Development Representative (SDR) roles.
  • Discuss the general skills and experiences required for the AE role.
  • What sales skills should an account executive possess?

Account Executives and Sales Development Representatives

Often, Account Executives are those people working in an outside role, with a primary responsibility of:

  • Developing new business opportunities with qualified leads (i.e., prospective clients)
  • Having discovery calls to uncover use cases their product solves
  • Delivering product demonstrations
  • Maintaining client relations with existing customers to whom they have sold.

Account Executives are generally more experienced than the inside sales team, who often have titles of Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) or Business Development Representatives (BDRs).

The SDR/BDR is more focused on the following types of activities:

  • Making cold calls, sending out cold emails, and other lead generation activities to potential clients.
  • They may qualify or confirm that a prospect is an excellent potential client when they come in through inbound leads, as a result of registering at trade shows, or via purchased lists of names.

You can think of the AE as the person who will close deals and the SDR as the person who opens up or begins the deal process.

Note: Consider reading our article on SDR Enablement if you support SDR teams.

Let’s continue our focus on the account executive.

What general skills and experiences should an AE possess?

It is important not to generalize overly, and your business needs may vary in terms of specific, but here are the common skills and attributes of a good account executive:

  • Prior experience working in or selling to those in the same or related field.
  • Due to industry experience, or simply through reading and personal research, they are knowledgeable of key industry trends.
  • They have excellent communication skills in verbal and written forms.
  • Account Executives should be excellent listeners, skilled with asking open-ended questions and then being quiet to listen, learn, and advise.
  • The AEs are strict enough to work within your sales process but creative to align with the buyer’s needs to make it work seamlessly.
  • They must have strong organizational skills and excellent time management to track vital details in the CRM system, manage meetings, and stay on top of ever-changing requirements.
  • They need to be curious, both to dig in and fully understand the needs of new potential customers and, in many businesses, the ongoing release of new products.

What sales skills should an account executive possess?

The good news?

If you have a solid onboarding process in place, many sales skills can be taught and are therefore not required when first hired.

However, there are sales skills that every seller should possess before speaking with customers, whether taught in the onboarding process or through preexisting knowledge.

  • Prospecting. Your marketing team and your SDRs will generate some percentage of the leads necessary, but it is rare when that percentage fills your pipeline year in and year out. If you want to be a sales rep, get good at prospecting.
  • Discovery. A great discovery is part art and part science. Frameworks like MEDDIC and BANT will ensure you gather the critical information and hopefully track it in your CRM. However, asking the right open-ended questions and listening for responses that lead you to new questions or problems you can potentially solve is a skill you must learn.
  • Negotiating. Everyone wants a bargain. Helping the buyers understand the value of the problem your solution is solving and then use that insight to educate procurement.
  • Referrals. Too many great sellers fail to capitalize on this all-important prospecting skill. When a customer buys from you, ask them who else would benefit from this solution? Who else do you know that has this problem to whom you could introduce me.

There are other capabilities that sellers must learn for each new role, new business, or new product, but the above are the most important sales skills for an account executive.

For completeness, however, here are some of the other skills that sellers must get good at that are also specific to their business and products:

  • Using competitive intelligence.
  • Understanding and demonstrating their products.
  • Following the sales process.
  • Understanding of their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and how to qualify prospects against the ICP and pain points for which their products have solutions.
  • Objection handling.

Each of the above areas tends to be specific to the business they are working in.

Read our article on sales skills to learn more.


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