Out of all the sales positions you hear about from tech companies, the title “Account Executive” (AE) sounds like a pretty big deal (unless you’re a VP of Sales or Chief Revenue Officer —those guys really are big shots).
You might already have some idea about what it means to be an AE, but what does that look like, exactly? On most tech sales teams, becoming an Account Executive is the next logical promotion from being a Sales Development Representative (SDR). While the main focus of an SDR is to qualify leads and fill out the pipeline, the main duty of an AE is to close deals.
While it is a higher position in most SaaS companies, the responsibilities of an AE can be both challenging and rewarding.
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, okay. There are a lot of jobs out there like that. Am I even qualified to do this job? And would it even be worth it in the first place?”
The answer to both of those questions is “maybe.” It all depends on what you want in life. To get a better idea for what it looks like to be an AE, we interviewed Juan Arcila, a Prehired member who now works as an AE at Wistia.
To understand a little bit more about Juan’s position at Wistia, let’s first get a better definition for the title “Account Executive.”
In this context, an Account Executive is a B2B SaaS sales team member who is primarily focused on closing deals. Most often, AEs rely on a team of SDRs to fill their pipeline with well-qualified leads. However, depending on the size of the target business, AEs may be responsible for the entire sales cycle. This means that some AEs handle the deal from the initial touch point all the way to the close.
The main focus of an AE is bringing in direct revenue for the business. Their job is to build relationships with prospects and convince them that their company’s product is the best solution for the specific problem that prospect is trying to solve.
In a B2B SaaS setting, the job of an AE is to fit the company’s software solution to the prospect’s needs. AEs seek to understand the prospect’s unique challenges and speak to them about the product in such a way that it helps them make a clear and informed buying decision.
The typical salary for an AE can range anywhere from $40,000 to $200,000 per year with commissions. While it will vary by company, some AEs can even make upwards of $300,000 per year.
For Juan, being an AE at Wistia is slightly different from the average AE position. Juan works on a small business team that is mainly focused on companies with 50 employees or less. While there is a larger business team that receives more pipeline support from SDRs, Juan’s team is often responsible for the entire sales cycle. They bring in their own leads and close those deals with only the occasional input from the SDR team.
What’s more, most of Juan’s leads are inbound, and there isn’t as much outbound cold calling involved in his job as there would be for an SDR.
Juan also works remote, a trend that is becoming more common with many sales teams. In fact, sales teams now hire remote workers 66% more often on average than other departments. While he does live close enough to the office to pop in from time to time, Juan says that the ability to work remote has offered some decent flexibility.
In order to be as productive as possible in any environment, an AE typically runs a tight schedule. They often block out time for certain activities during each part of their day so that all of their time is optimized for making as many sales as possible.
For Juan, mornings are set aside for prospecting and administrative work. The first thing he does after logging in is follow up with inbound leads via email or social media. Often, these are people with whom Juan has already started a conversation. They may not all be highly qualified leads, but they do require attention first.
Shortly afterward, Juan takes time to follow up with hand-raisers (people who have specifically requested to speak to someone in sales). Then he takes a look at his pipeline and follows up with other inbound leads.
If this doesn't sound like a whole lot of work, think again.
About 80% of sales on average will need at least five follow-ups before closing. Because of this, AEs are often slammed with follow-up. For any AE doing their job well, this first part of the day is going to be packed with work.
In addition, AEs make great use of sales technology to manage their follow-ups and sales pipeline. Salesforce is the most popular CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software to date and is what most software companies use to manage their pipeline data. Other programs like Drift help certain prospects get connected with reps in real time.
After lunch, Juan blocks out around two to three hours for phone and video calls. A lot of communication can be done via email or social media, but nothing is quite as powerful as a conversation where you hear the other person’s voice. That’s why sales reps at almost any stage in their career still need to make time to be on the phones.
Some of this call time is following up, but most of the calls Juan makes during this time are discovery calls with prospects. During these calls, an AE will try to learn more about the prospect’s needs, how their business works, and how the product or solution might work best for them.
They will also conduct demo calls via Zoom or Slack in which they demonstrate the product in action. This is a good way to show off to prospects how it might feel to use the product.
Although the regular 9-5 shift may be packed with work, AEs still have a life outside the office. As long as you meet your goals, your time spent working as an AE doesn’t have to exceed a standard 40 hour work week.
Despite what you may have heard about sales reps working 50 to 60 hours a week, Juan says that he rarely ever has to work that long. While there is an opportunity to go above and beyond by working more hours, the extra time isn’t always necessary.
“As long as we're reaching our target within the 9-5/40 hour block week, then that’s fine,” he says. “If there are some weeks or months where we fall behind and we know we need to kick it up a notch, then of course, we need to put in more hours to make that up. But it's not a requirement.”
With any great career, there will be good days and bad days— things you love and things you don’t. For Juan, the most challenging part of being an AE is getting the meetings in the first place. While the discovery calls and demos with qualified leads are often much easier, trying to get people to agree to an initial sales call can be difficult.
Just like SDRs, AEs will face a lot of rejection from potential customers. Sometimes it takes a lot of prospecting, researching, and sending emails to get any results.
However, Juan says the job is still worth the challenge to help people solve their problems with a unique and valuable product in the end. “I get to work with marketers that see the value in investing in a tool like Wistia. So in a way, we have that going for ourselves, that it's the product that pretty much speaks for itself,” he says. “But I just love seeing the results from how they implement the product, whether it's generating more leads, being able to qualify better leads, or having a more branded video experience on their website.”
Juan’s not alone in that, either. Many AEs find fulfillment in their positions because they are helping people do their jobs better every day and solving problems with creativity and critical thinking. According to Juan, “Those are the things that really make it worth it.”
If you’ve moved up in the ranks to becoming an AE,chances are you’ve proven yourself capable with your performance as an entry-level SDR. While this often leads to less oversight and more freedom to do things your own way, the best AEs will continue leaning on the rest of the sales team to help them develop their own methods for success.
As an SDR, your main KPIs are usually about how many new qualified opportunities you bring in. As an AE, your main KPI is closing. Although many sales teams have secondary KPIs as well (e.g. phone calls made, emails sent), sales managers are mainly concerned with your ability to bring in more money for the company. End of story.
To help you reach these goals, your sales manager will likely train you in contact sequences that have proven to be successful. However, Juan says that his team still gives him a lot of freedom in how he carries out those sequences. In his words, “The cadences are there, but we can personalize each touch as we see fit.”
Some AEs also worry about customers churning (stopping their subscription) later on, as some commission structures will account for this in their success metrics. However, Juan says that this is not the case at Wistia. HIs main focus is on closing new deals. If customers decide to change their subscription later on, that doesn’t impact his metrics all that much (customer success is often the job of an account manager).
Because the main goal of an AE is to close deals, there is a lot of flexibility in how AEs qualify their leads.
According to Juan, AEs at Wistia have a structure and a checklist of things they want to get out of every call, but how they get that information is largely up to them. “That's the autonomy that we get with being an Account Executive,” says Juan. “We pretty much dictate our own destiny when it comes to our career and the income that we earn.”
Many times, AEs will be making lots of phone calls and leveraging their CRM for important data that can help them qualify leads. The best AEs also implement other strategies to help them close deals more effectively. For example, Juan makes it a point to stay active on social media— a strategy he says helps him stand out among competing businesses in the same market.
When you’re the driver of your own success like this, it can sometimes feel like you’re pulling all the weight. However, most AEs have plenty of support along the way. When asked about how much help AEs get from their managers, Juan says, “We get a ton of feedback… a lot of support, a lot of training.”
Every month (and sometimes every week) AEs will meet with sales managers to review calls, discuss improvements and receive support for their continued success in the role. Juan also says that on his team at Wistia, many of the AEs will get together on a rotating basis to review each other's calls and discuss strategies to help each other improve.
There is often a stereotype with sales teams that depicts a cutthroat environment where everyone is out for themselves. But, in Juan’s experience as an AE, the most effective sales teams aren’t like that at all. “Everybody here is a team,” he says. “We're not trying to hoard our trade secrets. Anything that works, we share with our colleagues because we know if everybody succeeds, then it's good for us individually as well. So we have a very collaborative environment here.”
If you’ve ever been searching Indeed for your dream job — first off, you’re looking in the wrong place. Second, you’ve probably come across some great opportunities only to find a long list of experience or qualifications you just don’t have.
If you see a posting for “Account Executive” in any job forum, you might think it’s the same thing here, but you would be wrong. The path to becoming a successful AE is not only shorter than most people think. Your own experience in other fields might make you a perfect fit.
Many entry-level sales positions want prior experience in a related field before hiring on. While sales experience certainly doesn't hurt, to become an AE at a SaaS company, you could have a background in virtually anything.
In Juan’s experience, “You don't necessarily have to have a background in sales. You can have it in being a customer facing representative, or it can be something completely different, like a teacher or working at a nonprofit.”
That was Juan’s background. Before entering the SaaS industry, he worked as a director of education at a non-profit organization focused on underrepresented communities. He later went on to use some of the skills he learned there to better connect with people and personalize his messaging.
When you think of a “sales” personality, the image you get in your head probably isn't good. Stereotypes of outgoing salespeople with big cheesy grins have warped the way we look at the industry today.
Let’s be clear: those types of salespeople STRUGGLE in today’s market. That’s why we teach Clarity > Closing® at Prehired. Modern sales isn’t about sneaky tactics to manipulate your prospect. It’s about making the value of the product as clear as possible for them to make an informed decision.
In fact, when we asked Juan what personal traits made him successful as an AE, the main characteristics he listed were “being an empath” and “personalizing every single touch point.”
Great AEs in today’s market will be the kind of people you want as friends. They’re helpful, truthful and will listen to what you have to say.
“I tend to just be more on the introverted side of the personality spectrum than extroverted,” says Juan. “Really taking the time to listen when speaking to my prospective customers, and taking that extra step in my outreach... I think that's what really stood me apart as an SDR and what helped me get promoted even faster to an AE.”
Although your personality or experience may lend itself well to becoming an AE, there’s a little more that goes into it than just submitting a job application. Prior sales training is almost always a must, and it’s rare to find an AE position at the entry level.
Especially if you don’t have prior sales experience, the onboarding process at most SaaS companies won’t be enough to help you succeed in the role. There is so much to learn about sales methodology, best communication practices and common sales technology that it can be overwhelming.
If you're considering a career in software sales, you can give yourself the best chance possible by investing in great sales training. However, that doesn’t mean you need a four-year degree to get started. Prehired can launch you into a new SaaS career in just 12 weeks.
That said, breaking into the tech sales industry requires baby steps. Most people start out as an SDR. From there, being promoted to AE is a very natural move. According to Juan, “The transition was pretty seamless because I've already been doing the SDR prospecting, the qualification calls and the meetings with the AEs.”
Because of this, moving up to an AE position also requires patience. On average, SDRs stay in their role for 18-48 months before moving on. The skills learned in your first position often help you succeed in the next, but it will take time to get there.
For many people, the next promotion after an Account Executive role is either Outside Sales Rep or Account Manager.
Outside sales reps have some of the same autonomy as AEs in that they often handle deals from start to finish. They also sell to some pretty big corporate customers by travelling outside the office to meet with their prospects and conduct business.
Account managers are responsible for customer satisfaction after a deal is closed. These team members help renew subscriptions and ensure that existing customers receive the product support they need. Because AEs are usually good at building strong relationships, moving into a more constant relationship with the customer is also a natural move.
For Juan, his next ambition is to join the other AE team at Wistia that handles larger business accounts. Although this move will require him to work with a more complex sales cycle, he looks forward to not only new challenges, but also the new skills he will learn along the way through working with the SDR team.
Depending on the company, there may be different opportunities for advancement at each stage. For the AE that puts in enough hard work, the career path can be wide open all the way up to the shiny office with a gold plaque.
Being an AE is many things—challenging, meaningful, fast-paced and rewarding. Software sales is not a position for people who just want to punch the clock and go home. It’s a career path that presents lucrative opportunities that few others do. What’s more, your own skills could play more of a part in your success than you may realize.
Still, it can be hard to make the jump without the right help. That’s why our team at Prehired created our Science-Based Sales® model. We make it possible for people from all walks of life to achieve success in a software sales career. Not only that, but we’ve created a community to help our members receive the support they need to do well in the long-run.
If it sounds too good to be true, we get it. We like to dream big and let our members speak to their own success.
“I'm so grateful to Prehired. They're a great company, great team of folks,” says Juan. “If people really just take advantage of all the resources they have to offer, they will see success...The system is already laid out. You just literally have to implement it.”
If you’re ready to make a great living in a growing industry, you can invest in your new software sales career today with no out-of-pocket start cost. You won’t owe us any money until you land a job and collect your first paycheck. Apply today.
As Prehired's Founder & CEO, Josh Jordan is leading the mission to help 10,000 people launch 6-figure software sales careers by the end of 2024.
How? With Prehired's Science-Based Sales® process -- born from helping dozens of software companies build their sales teams...
...and then consulting with hundreds of Software Sales Managers on exactly what they wanted new hires to know...
...and then helping hundreds of regular folks break into software sales in 12 weeks, on average.
Josh created Science-Based Sales® to help nearly anyone succeed in software sales, because it creates clarity for prospects. No killer closer instincts, charisma or kissing up to decision makers needed.