Nailing the Account Executive Interview - New Secret Cheat Codes
Becoming an account executive (AE) is a popular career path for sales reps 💁
It’s definitely a step up. But being a sales development representative (SDR) gives you many transferable skills.
Brahm Jagpal is the Commercial Sales Manager at Cognism and manages a team of eight AEs across the UK and EMEA. It’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about recruiting good account executives!
We sat down with Brahm to chat about SDR career progression and how to nail that AE interview.
Jump ahead or scroll at your own pace 👇
- What does an account executive do?
- SDR vs AE: The main differences
- Standing out in the interview
- Showcasing your discovery skills
- Demos and leveling up
What does an account executive do?
Promotion to an AE role means you’re closing business. In outbound sales, once reps have got a meeting with your ideal customer profile (ICP), it’s up to AEs to give a demo and run discovery sessions.
This requires extra skills to be able to:
- Fully qualify the lead
- Uncover pain points
- Negotiate on pricing
Deep product knowledge is also required to do this role, especially in SaaS sales. You need to speak to additional stakeholders, not just the decision-maker or user. If you know your product inside out, you’ll be able to present a business case to each job role.
But how do you know if you’re ready to go for the interview? Brahm said:
“You need to be hitting the benchmark to put yourself forward. It’s competitive, and sometimes our SDRs are up against external candidates that have been AEs already.”
“We encourage SDRs to put themselves forward, even if they aren’t ready. It means they can get the interview feedback and know which gaps they need to fill. Whoever is learning the quickest will be in hot contention for the next hiring round.”
SDR vs AE: The main differences
It’s important not to forget your sales rep roots. As an AE, you’ll still need to be prospecting and building a pipeline.
We’ve summarized the main differences between the two in this infographic👇
Standing out in the interview
Your ability to be coachable is crucial for being ready to take the step to become an AE. It’s not only about being a top-performing SDR 💡
Sophie Pease, Account Executive at Cognism, explains why it’s important to hit your quarterly target early:
“You need to put the hours in when you’re an SDR. Make sure you hit your target early in the month so that you can put more time into doing the training for the AE role.”
As part of the interview for the AE role at Cognism, candidates need to give a demo and run a discovery session. Internal candidates stand out when they show that they are coachable and proactive.
“What a lot of SDRs will do is reach out to AEs, managers, or people on the hiring committee. They’ll ask them for tips and tricks on how to give better demos.”
“We encourage people who might not be ready (but are eligible) to put themselves forwards. That way, they can gain the notes they need. This means we can assess what level they are at now and where they need to be to get the role.”
By the time the SDR goes for the next hiring round, Brahm wants to see if they’ve addressed those gaps. If they can show they’ve taken on and actioned the feedback, they’ll be in a good place for the account executive interview.
Showcasing your discovery skills
There is some crossover between the role of a sales rep and AE. But they are two distinct roles.
It’s important for career progression to start honing the skills required to be an AE as early as you can.
“We tell SDRs from early on to focus on discovery and learning how to dig for people’s pain points.”
SDRs need to be aware of how they can plug gaps in discovery. This is about taking understanding the pain points to the next level. It’s about being able to quantify how the solution will benefit the client and the wider company goals.
For example, saving X amount of hours spent doing a particular task leaves the client to focus on Y and Z.
Brahm explains more about this in the below clip 🎬
Leaning into AE pairings is vital for developing this skill. Join as many client discovery calls as you can. That way, you’ll learn the questions that account executives ask to get more information.
If you don’t have a pairing, ask to join client calls or listen to recorded discovery calls. It’s vital to understand the language used and what gets the results.
“It’s a great asset when you’re paired with an AE as an SDR because you can learn so much from them.”
“You can add to your product knowledge, learn the right questions to ask, and about current clients they’re working with. This exposure helps you to smash the AE interview. As well as hit the ground running when you do get that promotion.”
Demos and leveling up
Giving a demo is one of the key differences between the SDR and the AE role. This gives the prospect a chance to get a first look at what the product is like. A good demo can help close the deal.
Joel Matthews, Account Executive at Cognism explains how you can help those first calls run smoothly 🎬
Product knowledge comes in here. As an SDR, you should block out one hour daily to familiarize yourself with the solution.
“A lot of it is going to come down to practice, practice, practice. You might need to be a little more selfish.”
“Identify your transferable skills. How’re you going to start implementing them into your current role to help you level up?”
For example, could you take a couple of minutes after booking a meeting to discover a pain point?
You should also:
- Understand case studies. This will add to your knowledge about how the product benefits businesses in different industries.
- Learn about competitors. Find the similarities between competitors and your product. Then learn what makes your solution unique.
- Review calls. So you can find a style that you resonate with most. From this, you can find a demo structure that works for you.
- Create cheat sheets. One of the benefits of doing demos on Zoom is that you can have everything around you. Take notes and use them on your practice demos.
- Get to know your learning style. It’s good to know what works best for you. So, if you learn through reading, you know you need to take as many notes as possible.
Brahm used to review calls when she was going for her first AE role:
“I used to listen to the recording and say what I would’ve said and then benchmark this against what the AE’s response was.”
“This helped me analyze my approach. I could see if I was jumping to a new line of questioning. Or whether I was getting deep enough into understanding their pain and the gap we need to fill.”
Time to nail that AE interview
The interview process for becoming an account executive is competitive. But there’s a lot you can do to nail it 🎯
Increase your chances of AE promotion by:
- Putting yourself forward for hiring rounds. So you can get feedback to know what you need to work on.
- Leaning into an AE pairing. If you have one, make use of it. Ask for tips and tricks on how to give better demos.
- Plugging gaps in your discovery. Listen to call recordings, benchmark your approach against other AEs and learn what gets results.
- Learning more about the product. Advance your product knowledge. Set aside time each day to dedicate to this.
Training to be an AE starts when you’re an SDR. It’s all about doing whatever you can to get ahead.
For more tips on SDR career progression, please take a look at our full guide 👀