What is an account executive?

By QuotaPath Team • May, 2022 • 6 mins

what is an account executive two account executives working side by side

Learn about the crucial role an account executive plays as we define what is an account executive, how this role compares to other sales positions, and average AE salaries.

The term account executive is thrown around quite often in the sales world, but many people still don’t understand what the role truly entails.

Perhaps you’re researching a career in an account executive position, or maybe you’re just new to the sales industry and want to ensure you have a solid handle on organizational hierarchy. Either way, find out everything you need to know in this guide about account executives, their responsibilities, and earning potential.

What is an account executive?

Account executives are salespeople who create relationships with new customers with the overarching goal of driving revenue. Account executives, or AEs, may create and nurture client relationships by attending networking events, doing research, making sales calls, and visiting potential and current clients in person.

What do account executives do?

Most account executives tackle a core set of responsibilities as part of their daily duties. That usually includes some combination of:

  • Researching and identifying prospects
  • Establishing “ins” at a company via networking
  • Pitching and presenting onsite or conducting virtual presentations and demos
  • Maintaining relationships
  • Addressing customer questions and/or potential issues during the leadup to a sale
  • Pushing to reach sales quotas and targets
  • Staying up to date on market and industry trends

The exact “day in the life” of an account executive may differ depending on the structure and size of the AE’s employing company. For example, at some companies, AEs enter the sales process when it’s already underway to help finalize the sale and convert prospective customers.

At smaller companies, such as a SaaS startup, an account executive might own the entire sales process, tackling every step from start to finish. That includes kicking off the relationship with a cold email or call and wrapping up the final sales contract when it’s time to close.

Some AEs don’t come into the picture until immediately after the deal wraps. They step in when it’s time to onboard the client and identify upsell opportunities.

Those significant differences in roles and duties mean more opportunities for AEs who want to lean into a specific part of the sales process. For instance, say you’re not great at breaking the ice but you’re known for your ability to close. You could look for an AE role at a company that primarily relies on account executives for the latter part of the sales cycle.

Key skills for an account executive include:

  • Exceptional presentation and communication skills
  • Well organized
  • Analytical
  • Ambitious
  • Empathetic
  • Goal-oriented
  • Proactive
  • Strong problem-solving abilities

What’s the difference between account executives and account managers?

Depending on the company, a sizable overlap between account executives and account managers may exist. Both positions involve working directly with customers. In some organizations, the AE actually acts as an AM, playing a dual role.

In most instances, AMs only come into play after a prospect signs the contract and moves from prospect to customer. At this time, the account manager serves as the liaison between the company and the client through the duration of their contract.

Account executive vs. sales development rep

Sales development representatives (SDRs) are primarily focused on outbound prospecting. They govern the part of the sales process that deals with researching and contacting potential clients. Unlike account executives who might dabble in multiple portions of the sales cycle, SDRs only source and qualify leads.

An account executive might also do the work of a sales development representative, participating in lead sourcing and qualification. This is more common at smaller organizations, where AEs run prospecting efforts until the company builds an SDR function. But very rarely, if ever, would an SDR cover the same job responsibilities as an AE.

Are account executive roles entry-level?

Yes and no. Account executive roles may be entry-level if the company is younger or smaller. Larger companies with more complex sales department structures may require AEs to have more extensive experience. Or, they may have several types of AEs with different salary packages dependent on experience.

Smaller companies and startups often ask AEs to have more experience. That’s because their responsibilities extend beyond what most AEs typically do. Account executives who also act as SDRs or account managers will need a more expansive skill set. Therefore, it’s helpful if they’ve held those other roles earlier in their career.

We see Senior AEs typically defined as account executives with at least two or three years of previous experience. These AEs usually have higher sales targets (and on-target earnings) than entry-level AEs and larger customers.

Average salary for an account executive

According to Indeed.com, the national average base salary for account executives in the United States is $68,055. In addition to base salary, account executives may be eligible for common benefits and variable compensation. These might include a cash bonus (averaging $15,000 per year) and commission (averaging $24,000 per year). Some organizations track and calculate this manually, while others lean on platforms like QuotaPath, to provide automated commission tracking and compensation insights.

There are also job perks like a 401(K), gym memberships, health/dental/vision insurance, disability insurance, wellness programs, and flexible scheduling. The exact compensation package depends on the company and the market.

For comparison, account managers in the U.S. averaged $58,357 per year, and SDRs average annual salaries of $68,837. Betts 2022 Compensation Guide also offers additional sales salary info and year-over-year earning trends.

So, is being an account executive a good job? For hard-working, organized, solid communicators, yes! But this role requires balance and attention to detail that won’t fit everyone’s needs. We recommend connecting with a peer currently in an AE role to learn first-hand what the job is like.

Are you an existing or aspiring account executive interested in finding a better way to track commissions? QuotaPath’s commission tracking software takes the mystery out of payday and scales with your team as you grow. For more information about how you can get more accurate, straightforward compensation results, try QuotaPath for free today.

Updated on May, 2022

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