Everything you need to know about being an account executive

If you’re ambitious, like working with people, and have excellent organizational skills, account executive might be the position for you — here's everything you need to know about this exciting career.

What can you expect from an account executive job?

Invaluable liaisons between businesses and their clients, account executives search for new customers and manage relationships with existing ones. They’re responsible for significant business decisions at major companies, though responsibilities differ widely depending on the industry. If you’re ambitious, like working with people, and have excellent organizational skills, account executive might be the position for you — here's everything you need to know about this exciting career.

Everything you need to know about being an account executives

Responsibilities

What do account executives do every day? Account Executives balance their clients’ wants and needs with the capabilities of their business. Over-promising or under-delivering leaves both parties frustrated and usually results in a loss of business. Though responsibilities vary widely, here are a few that most account executives have in common:

  • Learning about each client's needs, industry, and competitors.
  • Working with sales to create and negotiate pitches for new clients.
  • Discussing projects, goals, opportunities, and more with clients.
  • Creating and implementing timelines for projects.
  • Reporting on the success or failure of campaigns and using this information to improve upcoming campaigns.
  • Working internally on product development and marketing opportunities for companies.
  • Presenting quarterly and annual reviews on performance and projects to both clients and management.
  • Anticipating and mitigating crises and challenges to each client’s business.
  • Training new hires and transitioning accounts as needed.


Work environment

Almost all account executives work in offices, and many travel for client meetings as well. The rise of technology has reduced the need for face-to-face communication, but some companies still send account executives to meet with clients in person, especially for important discussions.

Account executives often hold regular (sometimes daily) meetings to update company management and relevant teams on projects and client expectations.

Schedule

Most account executives work full-time, 8am to 5pm. However, they may be expected to come in early for clients in different time zones or work late to meet strict deadlines. The higher up an account executive is or the more important their accounts, the more hours they typically work.

Hours are typically consistent throughout the year, but depending on the client, more work may be necessary at times. For example, account executives who work with florists or chocolatiers will likely need to work additional hours around Valentine’s Day due to increased business. The role of an account executive is ideal for high-energy individuals who enjoy working with others and solving problems.

What qualifications are required to be an account executive?

Education

Most companies expect account executives to hold a bachelor's degree or higher; candidates with master's degrees (such as an MBA) are typically preferred. In some cases, however, experience can compensate for education. A qualified candidate with several years of experience in a particular field might be hired over one with a master’s degree, but little experience. Degrees in the following fields tend to be most valued:

  • Business Management
  • Communications
  • Accounting and Finance
  • Marketing

Education is supplemented by on-the-job training specific to each company.

Experience

Only 10 percent of account executives have less than five years in the field; this suggests that most companies look for account executives with experience in their industry who are committed to the position. Most businesses also prefer to hire account managers who will stay with them for a long time, developing long-term relationships with its clients; high turnaround is often detrimental to these relationships.

66 percent of account executives have more than 15 years of experience, and 23 percent have more than 21 years of experience in their field. It’s common for people to begin as account coordinators or analysts before transitioning to an account executive role.

Skills

Account executives regularly rely on the following skills, which are honed through training and years of experience.

  • Sales: work with sales teams to land new clients and sell to them.
  • Communication: explain what is required for each client and update customers on the statuses of various projects.
  • Project management: manage clients and campaigns, ensuring projects are completed in a timely manner and to the satisfaction of each client.
  • Negotiation: negotiate prices of products or services with clients; renegotiation of contracts is often required with longtime customers.
  • Cold calls: call potential leads to convert them into clients.

Public speaking: account executives must be comfortable speaking to executives at clients’ companies and their own, presenting difficult concepts in understandable ways.

How much do account executives make?

The national median salary for account executives is around $68,000 annually. Atlanta offers one of the highest salaries for account executives, at $80,000, while Houston is below average at $65,000. Salary typically depends on experience and demand between companies in the area.

Job outlook for account executives

Projected growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an average growth of five percent for account executives between 2014 and 2024, accounting for 19,000 additional jobs in the field.

Career trajectory

Most account executives are promoted internally, but many are hired from external companies as well, especially in the same field. Account executives can eventually be promoted to senior positions, like Vice President of Business Development or Chief Operations Officer (COO). These positions involve working with high-profile clients on a case-by-case basis, but most of their time is spent improving the workflow of their company.

Those interested in becoming account executives should attend management training classes, sit in on sales calls to better understand the business, and start their search online.