Account Executive Interview Questions

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Account Executive Interview Questions

The traditional sales team used to consist of outside sales, inside sales, and account management. Outside sales would prospect and drive new business face-to-face, inside sales would "work the phones," email prospects, and close deals from the office, and account management would focus on retaining clients once the deal was closed. However, many companies have shifted these 3 roles into one hybrid role - the modern Account Executive (AE).

As a key contributor to the company's bottom line, the modern AE is responsible for prospecting, fostering connections with prospective customers, finalizing deals, and maintaining current client relationships- which makes this role a critical hire.

In this article, we'll cover account executive interview questions to ask that ensure your candidate is "a fit" for the role. We'll talk about some top industry-specific account executive interview questions at junior and individual contributor (IC) levels as well as company-specific ones that we'd recommend. But before we get to the interview questions, let's talk about the gravity of this hire.

I recently heard a statistic that the top 1% of Account Executives contribute as much as 40% of revenue, but the bottom 1% cost between $75,000 and $120,000 in lost recruiting fees, wages,  and lost revenue. With all of this in mind, the impact of this hire is huge.

Now, let's get into why you're here - the interview questions. When assessing an Account Executive candidate, the first things you need to know are: do they fit? and will they come prepared? This is where you'll want to ask company-specific account executive interview questions to assess their cultural compatibility, outreach style, and familiarity with the challenges your customers are facing.

Questions like:

  1. Cultural Compatibility: "Could you provide specific instances from your previous roles that align with one of our company values?"
  2. Product Proficiency: "When looking at our products, please pinpoint a standout feature that sets us apart from competitors and explain how you would use this to your advantage in a sales presentation?"
  3. Adaptability and Speed: "The (industry you're in) field is fast-evolving. Describe a situation where you had to adapt to a significant change or innovation in your previous role. How did you ensure your sales targets were not affected?"
  4. Sales Cycle: "Walk me through your sales process - from prospecting to closing. What techniques do you use for each stage?"

Generally, 2-3 questions on each topic will give you a good idea of an AE's fit for a role on your team. Now, it's time to assess their industry knowledge- we'll use Software As A Service (SaaS) as an example here. Industry-specific account executive interview questions could cover trends, competitors, shifts in buying behaviors, and the like - the goal is to see how tapped into the market they are, and how quickly they can get up-to-speed. 

Questions like:

  1. Industry-Specific Insight: "Can you describe a recent trend in the SaaS industry and explain how it might affect our sales strategy?"
  2. Competitor Knowledge: "Who do you see as our top competitors in the SaaS market, and how would you differentiate us from them in a sales pitch?"
  3. Buying Behaviors: "How have you seen buying behaviors change for SaaS products in the past year? How do these changes affect your approach to selling?"
  4. Customer Challenges: "What are the common challenges our target customers face in implementing SaaS solutions? How do you address these challenges in your sales process?"

As a forward-thinking company, it's important to find an AE who can not only meet current demands but also anticipate future trends and adapt accordingly. These industry-specific questions will help you gauge their level of expertise and ability to stay ahead of shifts in the market.

If you like these questions, we have more than 1000 in our interview intelligence library that can be added to interviews in just a few clicks - or keep reading for more.

Junior Account Executive Interview Questions

Many new AEs are coming to the industry from sales boot camps like Uvaro, Hyrise Academy, Fuel Sales Academy, SalesPlatoon, and more. They start as SDRs or Junior Account Reps and move into AE roles over time with persistence and by providing results. As such, they may not have much prior experience as an Account Executive, so their interview questions will focus more on their grit, bias to action, and learning agility.

Junior account executive interview questions may include:

  1. Grit: "Describe a time when you faced an unresponsive lead in your previous role. How did you handle it? What was the outcome?"
  2. Bias to Action: "Can you give an example of a situation where you took initiative and went above and beyond for a client or prospect even if they didn't become a sale."
  3. Learning Agility: "How do you stay updated on industry trends and changes in the sales landscape? Can you give an example of how you incorporated new information into your sales strategy?"

These questions will help assess a junior AE's potential and willingness to learn, as well as their ability to handle challenges and take ownership of their work. A junior AE needs to be coachable and adaptable in order to grow into a successful Account Executive. As they grow, and move into full-funnel sales account executives, you'll want to assess more of their ability to handle the sales cycle with ease. This includes outbound messaging, outreach tools, handling inbound lead-flow, and closing and negotiation skills.

Sales account executive and senior account executive interview questions will look similar with one caveat, senior AEs also need to be able to lead a team.

Senior account executive interview questions and answers may include:

1. Sales Leadership: "Tell us about how you manage and motivate a team of junior AEs without sales goal suffering. How did you approach this and what were the overall results?"

Answer:  "One approach I've used in the past is setting clear expectations and goals for my team, while also providing support and coaching to help them reach those goals. I also make sure to recognize their achievements and provide opportunities for growth, which helps keep them motivated and engaged. As a result of this approach, my team consistently met or exceeded our sales targets."

2. Strategic Thinking: "Can you share an example from your career where you implemented a strategic initiative that significantly impacted sales performance? What was the challenge, the solution you developed, and the results?"

Answer: "In my previous role as a senior account executive, I noticed that our sales team was struggling to convert leads from a specific target market. After conducting research and analyzing data, I proposed creating a targeted marketing campaign tailored specifically for this audience. This included personalized messaging and content that addressed their pain points. As a result, we saw an increase in conversions and closed deals within this new framework."

3. Mentorship and Development: "How do you approach the mentorship and development of your team members? Give an example of how you've helped a junior AE grow into a more effective and successful professional."

Answer:  "I believe in leading by example and providing hands-on support and guidance to my team. I make an effort to understand each individual's strengths and areas for improvement, and then tailor my coaching approach accordingly. For example, one of my junior AEs was struggling with objection handling, so I worked closely with them on developing effective responses and provided regular practice sessions."

4. Negotiation Skills: "How do you handle price negotiations with clients? Can you provide an example of a time when you were able to secure higher pricing without losing the sale?"

Answer: "I always make sure to focus on the value and ROI our product can provide, rather than just the price. I also listen to the client's needs and address any concerns or objections they may have. In one specific instance, a client was hesitant to pay our full price, but after understanding their pain points and demonstrating how our product could solve them, they were willing to work with our finance team to pay on a monthly recurring basis rather than annually."

It's important for a senior AE to not only excel in sales but also be able to mentor and lead a team effectively. Junior AEs will be looking to senior roles as examples and for guidance, so it's crucial to find someone who can set a positive example and drive results both individually and as a team. As you wrap up the interview process, always remember to ask about their career goals and how they see themselves growing within your company. This not only shows that you value their personal growth but also helps assess if they are aligned with the future of your company.

Pillar's interview intelligence can help you use the power of AI to predict AE candidate success - if you're frustrated with AE turnover, someone from our team can show you how our platform has helped companies lower employee turnover by over 50%. Click here if you'd like to chat more about this.

Account Executive Interview Questions - Online Resources

The internet holds a vast array of online resources on hiring AEs. Reddit, LinkedIn's AE Hiring Guide, Society for Human Resources Management, and more. Many of these resources will tell you to recruit for skill and potential and hire for fit, and that's 100% true with Account Executives- especially at junior levels. Account Executive interview questions across all levels are really more about the person's ability to handle constant “failure” with grace - after all, most prospects will not become customers. It's about staying motivated and driven even when you get a “No,” or, “lose” a sale. This is known as "grit" (or) the ability to keep going when everything seems against you.

Account Executive Interview Questions asked of Interviewers

Now that we've covered questions to ask an AE candidate, let's turn our attention to the questions you'll be asked as the interviewer. Forums are filled with "account executive interview questions to ask the interviewer." The 7 most common are:

  1. "What qualities do you look for in a successful AE candidate?"
  2. "Can you tell me about the overall sales strategy and approach at this company?"
  3. "How does the company support ongoing professional development, career path mapping, and growth for AEs?"
  4. "Can you discuss the company's culture and values, specifically as it relates to the sales team?"
  5. "What metrics or KPIs are used to measure success for AEs at this company?"
  6. "How does your company handle missed sales goals and what are your expectations for the sales team in those situations?"
  7. "What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for AEs in this role?"

But, there are two questions that I want to hone in on that are rarely asked- and both show that you're dealing with a thoughtful and potentially seasoned AE.

  1. How do you ensure alignment and communication between the sales team and other departments, especially when it comes to product development and marketing, to ensure that the offerings are continuously improving to align with and meet customer needs? Can you provide an example of how this has been successfully implemented?"
  2. Looking at my resume, experience, and feelings from this interview, is there anything that would make you think I'm not "a fit" for this role?

I've never seen these questions asked by an AE, yet they are two of the biggest reasons I see AEs being turned down for a role.

If these resources and questions have been helpful to you and you'd like to see more, we'd love to connect. You can check out our blog for additional interview questions, ebooks, and guides, or book a demo of our interview intelligence software to see how we help companies make hiring high-performing AEs simple.