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For Account Executives, It’s Time to Be a Leader

 

To achieve success, every account executive (AE) should be a leader and become the CEO of his or her business.

In my own personal and professional life, I’ve found that leadership and accountability are the keys to success. So why shouldn’t AEs experience the same? Sales leadership should trust their AEs enough to say, “This is your business.” AEs experience a complete mind shift when they know they’re calling the shots to make things happen.

Taking the reins

Too often an AE’s approach to sales is, “I’m here to close business, win deals, make money.” These are all very important, of course. But you have to take it up another level and realize this fact: Companies and their C-suite are actually looking to AEs and regional vice presidents (RVPs) for leadership on how to innovate their front-office business process to achieve their strategic business plan. Unfortunately, many sales organizations rarely give them the leeway to be true leaders.

The key is to get AEs thinking beyond “I have a quota.” They need to think big, to say, “I’m taking control of the situation. I’m going to lead here, and I’m going to help run my business or my territory like a CEO.” It’s a total shift away from viewing yourself as just an individual contributor, to driving the activities that will help you make your numbers. When I see this shift happen on my team, transformational things occur. Business and customers begin to appreciate the partnership even more, moving beyond the typical vendor relationship.

Becoming accountable

All leadership requires a great deal of accountability. And that also goes for AEs as they become the CEOs of their business.

When you’re a leader, you’re accountable — and that means you’re managing everything, too. No more: “It’s not my job to do X, Y, or Z.” No blaming someone further down the line. Ultimately, everything is your responsibility. But that’s a two-way street.

Part of being accountable is also holding others accountable. Take the opportunity to set deadlines and expectations with your internal team. If others embrace their own leadership, they will commit to and deliver on the mutually agreed-upon timelines — which all feed into best practices that advance the sales cycle every step of the way.

Don’t think that accountability is only an internal mechanism. Accountability applies to customer relationships as well. I always tell our AEs and RVPs to hold their customers accountable, too. If customers say they’re going to do something, then let’s make sure we deliver on it as a partnership. If they don’t live up to their word, then we need to call that out and make customers aware of the situation. It’s an honest approach based on trust, one of the core values of our company.

Getting over the fear factor

It’s understandable that some AEs might be a little fearful of making this change in how they approach their sales job They might see such an approach as just more work that will slow them down. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s critical to make sure AEs understand how important it is to their careers to learn the enterprise selling motion — from account planning to uncovering product demand to converting that demand into pipeline to mastering sales execution in the form of closing opportunities. If AEs want to be successful and eventually move into management at some point in their careers, they must learn and practice this enterprise selling motion so they can coach and up-level their team as a manager. Put the focus on how it’s the best thing for their career, along with the added bonus that it’s best for the customers, too.

Setting yourself up to be a successful account executive

You can tell someone to “go be a leader” and “be accountable” all day long. But it can’t really happen if you don’t also set them up for success. Our team takes the enablement of AEs and providing the right tools very seriously. If AEs aren’t successful, then ultimately the company isn’t either.

We regularly set goals for the fiscal year that cover focusing on customer mastery. It’s our relentless approach to understanding and maximizing the efficiency of the front-office business process for our customers: the sales process, service process, quote-to-cash process, marketing, and much more. We look and make sure we are laser-focused here to the fullest extent. And we always encourage our “AE CEOs” to set themselves apart. They can demonstrate their leadership to their customer’s top leaders by providing that value and the unique point of view of what is really needed for their customer’s business to achieve their strategic plan. Showing that leadership, accountability, and honesty only drives deeper connections and relationships — and, ultimately, a growth in sales.

AEs experience a complete mind shift when they know they’re calling the shots to make things happen.”

John Williams | Area Vice President, Salesforce

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