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How to Successfully Hire 1,000 Account Executives


This title promises a lot. But the truth is that in the more than 13 years I’ve been with Salesforce, I have, in fact, hired almost 1,000 account executives. And not just your average AE, but people who went on to become extremely successful in our organization.  

How was this account executive hiring accomplished? By carefully outlining the following process, and more importantly, sticking to it with each and every job candidate.

Initial Screen

This phase is two parts: the recruiter pre-screen and a behavorial phone screen. We ask the recruiter to complete a pre-screen to excite the candidate about the opportunity and to qualify against pre-determined characteristics.

The purpose of the behavioral phone screen is to understand how well the candidate can communicate. After all, the phone is a sales tool. Additionally, you want to understand if there’s a true mutual interest in further pursuing the conversation. Is the candidate just kicking tires or is there a genuine interest or underlying motivation to engage in the process?

On this call, there is zero need for the candidate’s resume. You just want insight into the candidate’s motivations, key successes, lessons learned, how he or she deals with adversity, and their motivation for pursuing the opportunity. You should also aim to educate the candidate on your company, goals, and personal experiences with both. 

Chronological Interview

This is where the rubber meets the road when hiring account executives. The key focus in the chronological interview is the candidate’s resume and his or her specific background. It’s critical to walk through the candidate’s relevant work experience and to understand the themes that emerge across the opportunities. After you complete the interview, you should be able to clearly see a number of themes across the candidate’s experiences. 


After you’re comfortable with a candidate’s qualifications from the chronological interview, it’s time to have the candidate run a 30-minute meeting and sell him or herself. If a candidate can’t sell him or herself, how can you expect them to sell your product or service?

The key parts of this presentation are:

  • Candidate Background — Does the candidate set the objectives for the 30-minute conversation? Do they do some quick discovery to understand who’s in the room and what they want to take away from the conversation? What do you learn about them that’s impactful and memorable? Is the slide or talk-track vanilla or does the candidate have a strong message to share?
  • Customer/Opportunity Story — This is a great forum for the hiring team to get a sense about how concisely the candidate can tell a story, and if they have a clear understanding of the business challenges the customer was trying to solve, resources they used to win the account, the specific steps of the sales cycle, and even how the customer would describe the value the candidate brought to the sales cycle.
  • Operational Excellence — How does the candidate run his or her business? What are the tools that they use? What are the key sales metrics that they look at to understand the health of their business and where to focus?
  • 90-Day Plan — If hired, what steps would the candidate take over the first 90 days to drive success? With this part of the presentation, be more focused on the thought process and the why versus the specific actions that the candidate is interested in taking. Additionally, a question that I like to understand is about the candidate’s learning style: How they best learn and how they ramped up effectively in their last role.
  • Close — How does the candidate recap? How do they tie back to the themes discussed in the presentation? How do they close the meeting? Do they ask for the job?

Reference Check

This has always been a hit or miss type of exercise for me. After all, what candidate is going to provide you with an individual that’s going to give a poor reference? There are a few tactics that have proven to make this part of the process more valuable. See how long it takes to turn the request around as well as whom the candidate provides, and try to identify a backdoor reference to get a true sense of the candidate’s qualifications

When you do call a reference, leverage the information gained from the chronological interview and ask the reference to shed light on the candidate’s learning style, areas of strength, and areas of development. Lastly, a fair question is whether the reference would want to work with or hire the account executive again. 

I have, in fact, hired almost 1,000 account executives. And not just your average AE, but people who went on to become extremely successful.”

Mike Wolff | SVP, Commercial Sales, Salesforce
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