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Discover what’s involved in a career as an account executive, including potential differences you might find between this and a career in client relationship management.

When it comes to IT organisations, the role of account executive is often a more senior one.

An account executive builds relationships with clients and ensures that this leads to strong results for the company – in terms of revenue creation and reputation. Although this role is closely related to work in client relationship management and some companies may conflate the two, when these positions are separated out the difference is subtle but important.

In client relationship (also known as customer success) management, the foremost aim is to help clients with their own business goals. As an account executive, on the other hand, you will still build strong relationships with clients but you will be more directly focused on the goals of your employer: you may be looking to gain renewals, upsells and cross-sells (selling a different product or service to a customer in order to increase the value of a sale).

Responsibilities of an account executive will often include:

  • Identifying and contacting potential clients
  • Discovering the needs of, and challenges faced by, clients – and encouraging them to use the products and/or services provided by your employer
  • Communicating with clients and prospective clients through emails, phone, social media, video calls and/or in person
  • Meeting sales targets, and engaging in upselling and cross-selling
  • Writing reports
  • Gaining an in-depth knowledge of the business, the market and the products/services offered and presenting this to clients in a way they understand.

Typical employers

Account executives can be employed by any company that wishes to build and/or maintain a strong base of clients. Some of the most typical employers are:

  • Advertising agencies
  • Financial services
  • IT organisations.

It’s worth noting that, when it comes to IT organisations, the role of account executive is often a more senior one – requiring plenty of experience in the industry and including more managerial responsibilities (such as developing sales strategies).

Qualifications and training

For a role with an IT company, you are more likely to be required to have a degree alongside a good few years of sales experience – often between three and six years’ worth. It will be beneficial if the experience is related to the industry. So, gaining a position as a sales executive or undertaking a sales graduate scheme with an IT company (for which you may need a 2.1 degree in a subject related to IT) may be a strong start.

If you are considering an account executive position outside of IT, expectations in terms of qualifications and experience are likely to be lower. Entry without a degree may be possible, as long as you have enough work experience in sales. However, graduates are frequently viewed as more desirable candidates. You could gain a position as an account executive with any degree, although subjects such as business, marketing or communications might best demonstrate relevant understanding alongside enthusiasm for the type of work.

Relevant work experience will be extremely valuable when applying to positions. A part-time or voluntary role – or internship – within the industry you’re looking to work in (eg finance) would set you up particularly well, although any customer service job could be sufficient for many employers. Part-time work in retail or telesales are popular examples.

Skills and qualities

  • Strong communication skills – including both speaking and writing
  • The ability to negotiate and collaborate effectively
  • A persuasive manner
  • Strong organisational and time-management skills
  • Self-motivated and the drive to pursue targets
  • Resilience and the ability to stay calm when under pressure
  • The ability to think analytically and solve problems – particularly when thinking about what would be best to offer a client and in what manner to do so.

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In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

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