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Hiring an account executive, especially your first one, can be a daunting process. Account Executives are responsible for bringing in new business, and if you're a startup the stakes are high - so you need to ensure you have the right person.
Account executives are also the first or second experience that a prospect will have with your brand. Therefore, the ability to make a great first impression and drive business development is key. To ensure you have the right hire, it's important to ask the right questions during an interview process.
But before we get to that, I started my career as an Account Executive, and have interviewed or hired 2 to 3 dozen AEs over the years. So hopefully this article will give you a great baseline to build your sales account executive interview questions and answers.
To begin, there are generally four types of account executives; Junior, Account Executive (AE), National, and Enterprise. The first part of this article will focus primarily on the two first levels - Junior and AE positions. When creating a list of junior account executive interview questions begin by evaluating the core components that play a role in an account executive's success. We often begin with sales and closing skills, but this is only part of the equation.
To be successful in sales, it is important to have the skillset of finding prospects and communicating with them effectively. Additionally, having knowledge of CRM (customer relationship management) software such as Salesforce to manage their pipeline and close deals as well as being able to use document signing software to ensure the deal is finalized- these are all pivotal to the sales cycle and crucial for success.
Your first interview with a new prospect should be nothing more than a screening. Think of this as a "barrier to entering" the candidate funnel. So your questions will be focused on filtering their experience and past performance through the absolutely necessary skills that they must be proficient in for success in the role.
Questions such as, "How proficient are you with Salesforce? If I gave you (x,y,z) task, how long do you think would take you to accomplish it?" or "Tell me about a time you closed a deal within the last three months. How did you get the lead, and what challenges did you have to overcome in the sales cycle?" are great starters - Remember, these are only the necessary skills required for success in the role. If they possess the basic qualifications they move on to the first interview.
Two resources that will serve as a guide to creating your list of questions are:
If you're a Pillar customer and use our interview intelligence software, there are more than 1000 of these questions segmented by role (for instance: National Account Executive Questions) already in your dashboard to use as prompts in screenings and interviews.
In the previous section, I linked a PDF with the entire process we use to hire Senior Account Executives including questions and answers to ask in the interview.
Sales account executive questions and answers such as, "What do you think it takes to be an effective salesperson?" "What do you expect of your sales leader?" and "Describe a time when you had to navigate complex customer demands while advancing the sale" are great open-ended questions that will give great insight into how each candidate approaches challenges in the sales process.
Since the majority of our customers are SaaS (software-as-a-service) companies, I'll add one additional thought to this section specifically for software-as-service companies. SaaS account executive interview questions will look slightly different from other traditional industries. The reason for this is the ROI (return on investment) times of SaaS products. If you're selling a product that takes 12 months to hit a positive ROI, you'll want to ensure that customer doesn't leave within the first two years or you're "out of pocket." As a result, the focus of your questions should be on the customer lifecycle and how to optimize it.
Questions such as, "How do you ensure customers are going to adopt our platform as a core integration into their daily workflows?" or "What strategies do you employ to reduce churn within your accounts?" might be appropriate in this case.
Once you have your list of sales account executive interview questions and answers, the final step is to prepare a list of criteria or "gates" that each candidate must pass in order to be considered a viable hire. Gates such as certifications, minimum experience, education levels, and references are just the beginning - you can also include past successes and awards they may have achieved.
The goal here is to create a comprehensive list of requirements that each potential hire must meet in order to be considered. This will give you the confidence to make an informed hiring decision, and ensure you are hiring the best AEs for your team.
Let's paint a picture: you've created a list of initial qualifications and organized them into semi-structured interview questions, you've sourced a list of candidates that are scheduled for interviews, and you're now 15 minutes from your first interview with a potential account executive.
How to Prepare for an Account Executive Interview:
1. Read through the candidate's resume and portfolio beforehand: Doing this will help you spot any potential red flags ahead of time, as well as give you a better understanding of the candidate’s background and accomplishments.
2. Create an organized interview structure: A very simple structure to follow is:
3. Five- ten minutes before the interview, log into all of the tools you'll be using. Zoom, Interview intelligence software, ATS, etc. This will give you enough time to troubleshoot any technical issues that may arise.
4. Now, open up the candidate's LinkedIn profile or social media page looking for a great ice-breaker to kick off the conversation. This ice breaker can be anything from a mutual influencer that you both follow, to common interests, alma mater, sports, a big game, rivalry, or anything else that you think will build rapport with the candidate.
Remember, account executive interview questions and answers don't have to be boring, the hiring process can be fun if you make it that way. Once you have these things, you'll be prepared to conduct a great first interview.
As an interview intelligence platform, it's comical how often we get requests for lists of account executive interview questions to ask candidates. The reason this is comical is that the questions themselves are only one-third of the equation when making a great hire. The other two-thirds are sourcing the right talent and creating an environment where that talent can succeed.
That said, sales account executive interview questions and answers are still 30-40% of the equation and should be taken seriously. Here’s a list of some potential questions that you can ask in your next AE interview:
1. "Tell me about a time when you had to manage a difficult customer situation or objection. How did you process the challenge and what solution did you come up with to overcome it?"
2. "What techniques do you use to develop relationships with prospects? Do you have a preferred email template or outreach trigger?"
3. "How have you used LinkedIn to generate lists of prospects that you can build rapport with?"
4. "What do you do first when you receive company-provided leads?"
5. "How do you track and measure your success when it comes to sales?"
6. "What strategies or tactics have you used for cross-selling and upselling in the past?"
7. "What methods do you use to keep yourself organized and accountable? How often are you checking emails, following up on opportunities, etc.?"
Questions like these are paramount to creating a dynamic understanding of the candidate's skill set and strengths. The responses you get during the interview will give you insight into how the candidate works, and more importantly if they’re a good fit for the role.
Before making an official offer, ensure the applicant demonstrates their proficiency at each task - from identifying prospects, cold outreach, creating opportunities, managing pipeline, and selling. Have them practically carry out each activity so you can evaluate their proficiency level and see if they're a good fit.
Good luck with your next interview and don't forget, you're interviewing for a good fit not just an impressive resume - above all, have fun with this process. The candidates will see this and respond to your enthusiasm.
If you're currently building or re-evaluating your interview process, check out Pillar's video interview platform. We offer a suite of tools to help you hire better. Hiring managers and recruiting teams who use our platform save hundreds of hours per year and make better hires. Schedule a demo to see how we can help you do the same.