When hiring an Account Executive, look for a candidate who has the drive to meet your company’s sales goals. This position requires a high level of critical thinking to match products and services with potential client needs. The ideal candidate will bring extensive industry contacts and a deep understanding of sales strategies and techniques.
A qualified Account Executive will have an established methodology for pursuing new business clients. They should outline a clear plan for understanding your products and services, share techniques for networking and cold calling, demonstrate the skill to structure, negotiate and close profitable deals, and possess the interpersonal skills to maintain post-transaction client relations. A keen sense of market trends combined with an outgoing personality and strong presentation style are keys to success in the role.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Account Executive interview questions to help you get started:
1. What was the most difficult deal you closed. What made it so challenging?
What you want to hear: An experienced Account Executive will have plenty of tales to tell about difficult deals. Your candidate should readily describe the product or service being sold, the type of buyer, and the dollar size of the transaction. Next, they should explain the issues that made the transaction so challenging. For example, were there delivery logistics problems, product availability issues, payment problems, or contract negotiation hurdles?
2. How do you stay motivated to conduct cold calls?
What you want to hear: Cold calling is a key sales technique used by Account Executives. It can be difficult to make contact with new leads in your target buying audience without the option of simply calling the individual, introducing yourself, and making a sales pitch on the spot. The frustration with cold calling is the high rate of rejection. Listen for a candidate who has experience with cold calling and can share techniques they use to fight through the rejection. For example, they might say the few successes are sufficient reward for the failed efforts, or they limit the number of cold calls per day or week so as to avoid burnout, or perhaps they just try to enjoy the challenge and don’t let rejection bother them.
Red flag: A candidate who suggests they avoid cold calling as a sales technique, or who appears to have a low tolerance for rejection, is a high risk for missing valuable sales opportunities and probably not well-suited for the role as a general matter.
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3. What techniques do you use to overcome a client’s objections to your sales pitch?
What you want to hear: Experienced Account Executives recognize that making a sale is typically not an easy process. Clients may raise a variety of objections before being convinced that the transaction is right for them. A qualified candidate will outline techniques they use to overcome objections. For example, if a client says “We don’t have the budget” the candidate may demonstrate the unique value of the product and explain how it can solve a client’s problem. Or if the objection is “We’re fine with the tools we’re already using” the response may be to focus on examples of competitors who have made a change and now have an advantage in the marketplace.
4. What technology tools do you use to support your sales efforts?
What you want to hear: Account Executives should take advantage of all available technologies to optimize their performance in the office and in the field. Listen for a candidate who has experience working with video conferencing applications like Google Hangouts and Zoom; pipeline management tools like Salesforce Zoho CRM; e-signature tools like DocuSign and eSignLive; sales forecasting tools like Accelo and Pipedrive; project management platforms like Basecamp and Atlassian; and social media management tools like HootSuite and Buffer.
5. Describe a time when everything went sideways with a client after you closed a deal. What did you do?
What you want to hear: A strong Account Executive recognizes that their work doesn’t end when the deal is closed. While order or service fulfillment is typically handed off to account managers, service or fulfillment departments, and billing departments, it is the Account Executives responsibility to remain involved and ensure complete client satisfaction. Listen for a candidate who can describe a time they stepped in and effectively resolved any problems in order to improve customer service or save the account altogether.
Red flag: An Account Executive who simply passes off a client to internal departments and hopes for the best risks losing the business and damaging your company’s reputation if problems arise that aren’t properly attended to.
6. How do you find new sales opportunities?
What you want to hear: The Account Executive’s job is all about making sales. Listen for a candidate who has a clear plan for how they go about finding sales opportunities. At a minimum, your candidate should discuss professional networking activities such as attending trade shows and conventions; social networking such as Rotary Clubs or local community events; digital outreach through LinkedIn or email campaigns; conducting events for new products or promotions; and cold walk-ins or cold calling.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Account Executive position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Bring extensive contacts in your industry
- Have established methodologies for finding new business opportunities
- Can effectively structure, negotiate and close profitable transactions
Need help writing an Account Executive job description? Check out our Account Executive job description template.
What two specific attributes of this profession do you find most interesting, and why?
How did you measure success as an Account Executive?
What elements should every presentation have to be effective with clients?
You will likely encounter multiple clients requesting your assistance at the same time. What methods would you use to prioritize clients?
What techniques help you build long term relationships with clients?
Tell me about a professional experience you’ve had that displayed your leadership abilities.
If you were handed a fresh list of leads, what would you next steps be?
Based on your current knowledge of our products or services, sell me something our company offers.
What are the top skills you utilize when negotiating transactions with clients?
What signs help you determine when to stop pursuing a prospective client that won’t commit?
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