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Sales - 7 min READ

How to Interview and Hire an Account Executive

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Author photo: Loni Klara

Loni Klara

When you have a rockstar account executive on your team, your job becomes a whole lot easier. And almost all sales managers have a rough idea of what they’d like to see in candidates.

But when you’re facing a potential candidate, it’s easy to miss the more subtle qualities that could really boost your team’s overall performance. Traits like a drive to succeed or the willingness to learn are not always apparent on a resumé.

That’s why it’s important to think about the qualities you need and want from your new account executive before meeting them. A star account executive will be proactive in not just maintaining existing accounts, but also finding new ways to grow and satisfy customers. They will work hard to continue to provide value so that clients don’t jump ship to your competition.

Here are some tips to help you find those traits when hiring an account executive:.

1. Ask about their achievements.

A study of 1,000+ salespeople by Professor Steve Martin at USC’s Marshall School of Business revealed that achievement orientation is one of the biggest dividers between top salespeople and underperformers.

Achievement-oriented people consistently seek out ways to accomplish their goals and show a high degree of self-discipline. As a result, they’re better at managing their own work compared to those with lower scores on achievement orientation.

The study showed this clear difference: 52% of high-performing salespeople took full advantage of their CRM functions, while only 31% of underperformers did. Though using all the features of a CRM tool might not seem like a very important task, underlying that small action is the desire to be more effective and efficient at work.

This drive to be more efficient doesn’t just have to be sales-related either. Even if the person you’re interviewing doesn’t have previous sales experience, having a history of achievements in other areas is a good indicator of this trait.

For instance, someone with enough drive to play competitive sports is more likely to show similar motivation in sales. Ask your account executive candidates about their past achievements to get a sense of their ambition and interest in personal growth.

Learn more about how to hire and train a stellar sales team:

2. Notice how they relate to others.

Sales is the business of relationships. But this is particularly true in the current era of relationship selling. Building trust and maintaining loyal customers is a significant aspect of the job.

The single most important task for an account executive is nurturing and growing an account. Even a long-term client can drop you if it becomes evident that you don’t value the relationship. For this reason, account executives must know how to maintain a good relationship with the client.

However, not all relationships are the same. As the graph below from the University of Minnesota shows, there are different types of accounts in sales:

four different types of accounts in sales.
  • Transactional: One-time customers who buy once from you and don’t come back.
  • Functional: Repeat customers who buy your services out of convenience, habit, and need.
  • Affiliative: Dependent customers who rely on your expertise for an important part of their business or personal needs.
  • Strategic: A business partner with whom you have a mutually beneficial relationship.

A good account executive will know how to differentiate between these relationship tiers and give the important relationships the care and attention they need. At the same time, they’ll show the same care with lower-tier accounts while remembering to make enough room for other accounts that demand much more.

During the hiring process, pay attention to how the candidate treats others. Are they courteous and natural with the interviewer? How do they interact with others on the team, or depending on the setting you’re in, with your customers?

Image for post Hire the best.
Pro-tip 👇

Hire the best.

Learn how to hire a rockstar sales team with this sales recruiting guide.

3. See if they’re good with subtext.

There’s a reason why higher EQ has been linked to bigger sales revenues. Separate studies show that in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to insurance, salespeople with higher EQ generate more sales on average.

When working with people, sales executives can’t always take customers at their word. The ability to see through hesitation, emotions, and concerns is a key factor in closing deals. Knowing how to approach a problem from the customer’s point of view can only help in building relationships.

When looking for an account executive, watch for clues in how they interpret words, tones, and situations. If something’s clearly meant as a joke, are they able to catch on? Do they always trust what you say or can they pick up on words unspoken?

Because account executives are responsible for taking care of the customer long-term, high emotional intelligence is key to help navigate the relationship. Seeing new problems as they arise and addressing the client’s concerns in a timely manner are crucial for keeping an account active and well.

4. Make sure they’re not easily discouraged.

Rejection is the word of the day in sales. A successful account executive isn’t discouraged by hearing the word ‘no.’ They understand that there are many reasons behind a ‘no,’ from budget cuts to timing.

Although resilience can be hard to detect in someone at first, asking for past examples can give you an idea of how the person deals with rejection.

Another way is to use a resilience test for candidates who make it through to a later stage in the hiring process. For example, the Predictive 6 Factor Resilience Scale (PR6) is a measuring tool that rates six different areas of resilience:

  1. Vision: Sense of purpose, clear goals, congruence
  2. Composure: Regulate emotions, managing bias, calm and in control
  3. Collaboration: Support networks, social context, manage perceptions
  4. Tenacity: Persistence, realistic optimism, bounce back
  5. Reasoning: Problem solving, resourcefulness, anticipate challenges
  6. Health: Health nutrition, quality sleep, regular exercise

All of these areas are important for future account executives on your team. Evaluating your candidate’s ability to bounce back and problem-solve will get you closer to hiring a great account executive.

5. Find out what interests them.

French researchers recently discovered that staying open and curious makes people age more slowly. This youthful approach to life is crucial for the fast-paced world of sales, where there’s always plenty more to learn.

Find account executives who demonstrate a passion for learning, so they can translate that quality into keeping up with industry news and trends. A person who is naturally open to learning can take up any new challenges.

Even if they’re not familiar with your industry, they’ll learn much more quickly than someone who’s had previous experience but doesn’t possess the same curious mind.

Start a conversation about something that interests them. Find out how they learn and apply their knowledge to different situations. See if they can converse on various topics and show a natural desire to learn more.

6. Pay attention to their organization skills.

Staying organized is vital for tracking different duties like following up with clients, arriving on time to meetings, and producing accurate reports.

Effective time management is something everyone struggles with, so look for account executives who have a handle on their own productivity.

Research from Bain & Company revealed that account managers don’t spend enough time on priority clients, spending up to 40% of customer time on accounts at tier 3 or below.

account managers don’t spend enough time on priority clients

The ability to prioritize well can only help with performance. Observe your interactions with potential candidates. Are they on time for meetings and calls? Do they communicate efficiently via phone or email? Or do you feel like they’re disorganized and sloppy?

7. Check for their tech skills.

Even in a people-oriented field like sales, technology is already making a huge impact. Top-performing sales teams are twice as likely to use hi-tech tools like AI and machine learning.

The future is only going to get more tech-friendly for sales. Many manual tasks will be automated, leaving room for account executives to focus on the more fundamental aspects of the job like relationship-building.

All these changes mean that your account executives need to be good with tech, so they can take advantage of CRM tools, AI-based reporting and analysis, and more.

Of course, technical fluency can be taught to an extent, but hiring people who can quickly pick up your CRM workflows will make the process that much faster.

In your next interview, talk to your candidate about the tools they’ve used in the past and see what kinds of technical skills they list on their resume.

Imagine what work will be like after hiring your awesome new account executive.

Before looking for your next sales star, ask yourself how you want them to help you. Imagine a scenario where they’re contributing to the flow. Beyond the usual duties of the job, what are they doing to make life better for everyone?

Once you have that image in your head, it’ll be easier to identify the top traits necessary to make that a reality.

Qualities that can help build better relationships with customers, improve team collaboration, and quicken the pace of training or onboarding are great things to keep an eye out for.

A great account executive will learn fast, show initiative, and practice self-discipline to deliver results. What’s more, their drive and positivity can rub off on others on your team. If you watch hire for these traits, you’ll be setting the stage for a highly productive year.

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