The toughest jobs are those that put people between two equally strong and demanding forces. Waitresses, for example, are at the mercy of their customers and cooks, yet their tips and livelihoods often depend on their abilities to provide high-quality service.

Account executives are in similarly demanding positions. They have to serve their clients and their agencies equally.

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What Makes a Great Account Executive

However, a great account executive is so much more.

On the agency side, a great account executive is always working to make the company look good and, ultimately, improve its bottom line. He’s a student of business who knows how to build accurate estimates and then hold his team to those estimates so they come in on time and within budget.

Above all, the great ones understand the job is all about balance and that losing balance means everyone involved takes a plunge. That’s why finding a genuinely talented account executive should be among all agencies’ top priorities.

Asking the Right Questions

When interviewing potential account executives, ask them to explain why they want the job. Ideally, they’ll tell you that their goals involve a love for driving business growth, both for the agency and the clients.

Ask about a time when the candidate had to explain to a client that a project was about to go out of scope. You’ll want to know how he handled objections and hear about the outcome. Similarly, ask about his systems for managing clients’ budgets and timelines. Great account executives have well-defined systems.

Candidates will also have systems for learning about clients’ businesses, their goals, and how those goals are evaluated. Finally, learn about candidates’ teamwork skills. Ask how they build and organize teams to ensure work gets done -- and done efficiently.

The Goals of a Successful Agency Account Executive

1) Held accountable and set SMART goals.

They have concrete SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. They don’t try to hide behind their work -- they want everything out in the open and to be held to the goals they set.

2) Focuses on the big picture and looks out for the agency's profitability.

Instead of getting bogged down in day-to-day details, they see the big picture and always think about how they can grow the agency.

3) Manages to tie down the agency's work to the client's growth.

They want to know how the agency’s work affects the client’s bottom line, and they can explain it to everyone involved.

If you see these traits in an account executive, he is a keeper: Watch the benefits roll in.

You’ll make more money, for one, but it goes beyond that. You’ll keep your clients. Clients want a business advocate, not just an executor. An account executive who serves as the former will increase client retention.

Additionally, your team and company culture will improve. The best account executives share in the glory and shoulder their shares of the blame, which makes them great to work with. Those account executvie skills raise morale, reduce employee turnover, and drive great results for your clients.

Whether you’re interviewing new candidates or dealing with your existing account executives, keep an eye out for the qualities above. The benefits will shape your business on virtually every level.New call-to-action

Originally published Dec 8, 2015 9:00:00 AM, updated May 02 2018