Account executives (AEs) are a special breed of sales professionals. As part of the sales team, AEs are the first people to interact with prospective customers—right after-sales development reps (SDRs).
And it's a taxing job—an AE typically is on Zoom doing product demos, a dozen times every day, following up prospects on emails, updating the CRM, collaborating with other functions such as customer success, marketing and product teams in the organization, and—most importantly—achieving the sales targets set out for them.
In many ways, AEs own a deal from the cradle to the grave—ranging from qualifying the leads, running discovery calls, to closing a deal. Since their work performance is tied directly to their company's revenue, AEs can never afford to slack on their job.
The kind of responsibilities that AEs shoulder daily requires them to exhibit a high degree of discipline, pragmatic thinking, and creative negotiation skills to be good in their trade. Moreover, there are a few things that high-flying AEs do that set them apart from their average counterparts.
Based on our interactions with hundreds of account executives who use Avoma to make the most out of their sales meetings, we have found that good AEs do the following 7 things every day to stay ahead of the curve.
1. They are great at managing their time
Nobody understands the gravity of "time is money" maxim more than a sales executive worth their salt. Unlike other professions—where your job is more or less evaluated based on effort and output—an account executive's job is evaluated based on specific deal outcomes.
But because an AE's job requires them to diverge their attention across all sales cycle stages, it can easily lead them to lose their focus. To ensure that they don't let deals slip through the cracks, top-performing AEs manage their time like their life depends on it.
For instance, a competent Account Executive has a knack for saying "no" to meetings that add don't value to their schedule. Instead, they have workarounds to manage their meeting in a way that saves them time while still giving them the desired outcome.
For the meetings that do require their presence—demo meetings, for example—they go armed with full ammunition. A diligent Account Executive knows that the time booked for a sales meeting is precious (and irrecoverable), not just for them but also for the prospects.
Therefore, they often have a smart system to build meeting agenda templates for each sales conversation to ensure the interaction is outcome-driven. Setting a clear agenda for a sales call sets the right expectations for everyone, gives the meeting a clear direction, and avoids the likelihood of derailing the conversation in unwanted directions.
2. A top Account Executive collaborates closely with others
A successful Account Executive realizes that the modern sales process is not a single-player game, especially in the B2B context. It's a multiplayer universe where collaboration is the key to unlocking the next level of growth. Attributing the success of closing complex B2B deals solely to the sales team is a gross miscalculation—and great AEs know that.
Instead, a good Account Executive places a high value on collaborative selling—an evolved state of solution selling which demands that other teams such as product, marketing, customer success, customer service, and even the prospects be made equal stakeholders across all stages of the sales process.
They perceive sales closure as a level playing field for everyone—including the prospects. Great AEs don't just sell—they work with internal stakeholders and prospects at a partner level to identify the optimal solution for both parties.
The collaborative nature of a skillful Account Executive is evident long after a deal is closed. For instance, great AEs know that their job doesn't stop at closing a deal but making sure a customer account stays loyal to their brand. Therefore, they go the extra mile to ensure a smooth account hand-off between sales and customer success to transfer the account intelligence and facilitate customer retention.
Similarly, a well-rounded Account Executive works alongside the marketing to run personalized ABM (account-based marketing) campaigns or warm up the prospects before engaging them in a sales conversation. During a demo call, they might have experts from the product engineering team to give prospects a complete picture of the product's capabilities. Good AEs leverage collaboration tools to democratize the sales process for everyone and improve sales conversion rates.
3. They are meticulous with their discovery calls
A great Account Executive understands that it's not just about meeting their OTEs (On Target Earnings), although OTEs are a critical component of sales compensation. They realize that selling to wrong customer accounts is a problem that will come back to bite them later—often in the form of customer churn.
Contrary to the old-school mindset of always-be-closing, successful account executives focus on ensuring the right customer-product fit. That's because they know that the buck rarely stops at sales conversions—especially in SaaS. The real magic happens when customers decide to stay loyal to the brand.
In other words, great AEs understand that they are equally accountable for improving customer retention metrics—just like the customer success team. Therefore, they make sure that the customers they sell to truly see value in their product. They offer a high-touch customer experience once they identify a fit and also do not hesitate to disqualify opportunities that aren't a fit.
A sales discovery call is usually where the filtering happens. After all, a discovery call is a perfect opportunity for the sales team to explore a fit between the product and its prospects. Depending on the demand generation process of an organization (outbound, inbound, or a combination of both), it often comes down to the Account Executive to take a call on whether to disqualify a prospect account during the discovery stage or nurture them for a deeper level of engagement.
4. A top Account Executive handles objections like a champ
Most AEs are empathetic listeners—they can feel the pulse of the customers by listening intently to what they are saying or not saying explicitly. Good AEs keep their ears to the ground so that they can handle customer objections before they turn into full-blown rejections.
Objection handling is an inevitable part of a sales process. But handling objections is not always about magically convincing your customers to say "yes" to an offer. In sales, handling objections is a subtle art of accepting a series of "nos" before getting the customers to a "yes."
Thoughtful AEs see objection handling as an opportunity to understand customer psychology from close proximity, identify the customers' real concerns, and navigate them to an agreeable solution. Smart AEs use customer objections to peel multiple layers of their psychology to help them see value in the sales offer.
Most AEs leverage conversation intelligence to proactively prepare themselves for the common objections in sales conversations across the organization. And they plan their objection handling as part of their demo. They show and tell.
For example, in the image below, you can see how the best Account Executive first gets an understanding of the prospect's company and their problems (hear first) and then begins to address them in their demo by bringing in the right topics such as pain-points and pricing at the right time.
5. The best Account Executive listens way more than they talk
An account executive's job is like that of a therapist—both professions need a lot of patience, courage, and training to listen with an open mind rather than listening to respond. In sales, listening well to the prospects is almost like a growth hack that helps AEs build trust with customers, open interesting conversation loops, and engage in meaningful conversations.
We at Avoma have repeatedly found that AEs who are well-trained in active listening tend to have a significant upper hand in building rapport, carrying out effective sales negotiation techniques, and handling customer objections. In layman terms, an AE's active listening skill is directly proportional to their ability to close more deals or drive desired outcomes during a conversation.
But it can be a slippery slope—some AEs falsely assume that they are letting the prospects do the talking while the fact is a majority of salespeople, by default, control the conversation. To tackle this problem, good AEs depend on tools like Avoma to track their talk time ratio.
Avoma's talk time analytics gives AEs an insight after every sales call on how long each speaker spoke for, who spoke the longest, and who spoke the least. Typically, we have found that a good sales conversation maintains a 40:60 ratio—the salesperson talks for 40% of the time while the prospect speaks for 60%.
With practice, everyone can get better at active listening. You need a tool like Avoma to track your conversation patterns, analyze the talk time ratio, and train yourself to curb the temptation to interrupt the prospects.
6. They take a consultative sales approach
Selling to mature B2B accounts takes a considerable amount of professional experience and the ability to read each situation carefully. B2B sales is strategic—and strategic sales is often consultative in nature because you need to map your prospects' unique business requirements to the most suitable solution.
Unfortunately, that's not what happens in the real world. It's common for many salespeople to take control of a sales conversation from the get-go and educate the prospects as if they don't know what they want. You might say educating is great when done well—sure—but it is not the right approach for every customer.
Take the Challenge Sale approach as an example. It claims that a salesperson knows (or should know) better than the customer—which is, of course, not always true. Buyers today come to the negotiation table more prepared than ever.
Good AEs don't fall for hypes, and they know it's always horses for courses. The best ones tend to play the role of a consultant, which is a key part of the discovery process to ensure a mutual fit between the prospect and their product. Rather than hard-selling their product, the best AEs guide the prospects to the right solution, even if it means letting go of an opportunity to promote their company's brand.
All in all, taking a consultative sales approach is a win-win deal for both the customers and the AEs. The customers find the right solution to their problems while the Account Executive often builds a trustworthy relationship with the prospects, earns word-of-mouth marketing for their brand, and hones their ethical selling skills.
7. They proactively seek feedback and coaching
Good AEs know that sales coaching can help them master their craft and meet their revenue goals. This is backed up by research that suggests B2B sales reps who achieve their quota 75% of the time had more proficient sales coaching initiatives in their organizations than others.
And although it's the responsibility of sales leaders to facilitate a good training and development program for the sales team, top AEs don't depend on others to level up their game. They are self-starters who will take the initiative to learn and apply new techniques in their sales process.
For instance, it's a norm in most B2B companies to have the new or less experienced salespeople shadow senior reps on sales calls during the training period. While shadowing experts is certainly helpful in many cases—it's not always a practical solution due to constraints in time, the difference in working styles, or several other factors.
A smart Account Executive accelerates their learning curve by taking an asynchronous approach to improving productivity. Instead of shadowing others and sitting through an entire sales meeting, they use sales coaching software to listen to specific parts of the call at their preferred speed and time. Suppose they are eager to understand how others in the organization are handling product demos. In that case, they can curate a playlist of aspects such as objection handling, pricing discussions, and demos and listen to them on the go.
An Account Executive most of the time has a lot of things on their plate, and they always have to have their eyes on the prize to stay financially afloat, close their sales targets, and progress their careers. Good AEs have a long-term vision about their job performance, the domain they operate in, and the changing norms in customer behavior.
Therefore, they continuously upskill themselves with the latest tools and knowledge to succeed in their jobs and help their company hit the revenue targets. And a conversation intelligence tool like Avoma for Account Executives is often their ally in helping them improve their sales skills by 1% every day, which massively compounds over time.