Account Executive vs. Account Manager: Finding New Clients and Keeping Them Happy

An account executive meets with a client.

A business’s success often comes down to its most human elements: its staff and how they build relationships with the world beyond the office. Creating professional relationships and ensuring positive brand association is one of the most powerful factors in determining the success of all businesses, from mom-and-pop shops to international conglomerates.

An account executive meets with a client.

Behind the scenes are account executives and account managers, two vital positions that establish and maintain partnerships with clients, ensuring all parties’ needs are met and that relationships are mutually beneficial. There are many ways in which these relationships are established and maintained. Account executives often attend networking meetings, events, and conferences to engage with prospective business partners. They learn about a business’s needs and challenges, and propose their company’s services as a solution. When the parties agree to work together, the account executive signs the business as a new client and develops a contract. Then the client is introduced to the account manager, who will maintain the business relationship over the long term, upgrading, modifying, and managing the provided services as the business grows and evolves.

With excellent communication skills and interpersonal abilities, account executives and account managers establish and maintain the relationships at the heart of all businesses. Want to learn more about these two positions? Keep reading to explore the similarities and differences in account executives vs. account managers and learn how you can step into one of these vital roles.

Account Executive Overview

Account executives are a critical link between companies and their customers. They work in all sorts of industries, from advertising agencies and pharmaceutical manufacturers to public relations firms and radio stations. Their primary responsibility is to build relationships with new clients while helping to cultivate relationships with existing ones. They are the primary point of contact for prospective clients, offering them guidance while simultaneously assessing their needs and making sure they can be met. They might create media pitches, reach out to social media influencers, provide product samples for editorial promos, organize promotional events, and more.

It’s vital that account executives be able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing. For this reason, many aspiring account executives begin by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communication. In Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication program, for example, students develop important skills, including writing for a variety of purposes, strategic planning, and keen attention to detail, as well as further develop their creativity and interpersonal collaborative abilities. In addition to earning an undergraduate degree, most professionals work in related fields to gain real-world experience in communication and negotiation before stepping into an account executive role.

Account Manager Overview

Account executives and account managers have many similarities in terms of skill sets, educational backgrounds, and, at times, even daily responsibilities. However, these two positions remain distinct. Account managers are the liaison between a business and its existing clients. They’re part salesperson and part customer service representative, overseeing the relationships a business has with partners and striving to grow them over time. They may monitor budgets, explain cost factors to clients, and negotiate new terms as necessary.

Since account managers juggle many clients, they must be detail-oriented and able to multitask and manage priorities according to company and client needs. They also must have good communication skills to delegate tasks as necessary. Similar to account executives, account managers often begin by pursuing an undergraduate degree in communication, marketing, or business. After gaining some experience, often in an entry-level sales position, they can apply for account manager positions.

Salaries and Job Outlook for Account Executives and Account Manager

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t keep data related specifically to account executives or account managers. It does, however, track employment rates, job growth, and median salaries for the related positions of sales manager and advertising, promotions, and marketing manager. Data from 2018 indicates the median annual salary for sales managers was $124,220, and advertising, promotions, and marketing managers earned a median annual salary of $132,620. Individuals in the latter position can expect to see a job market growth of 8% from 2018 to 2028, while sales managers will see a 5% growth, in line with the national growth rate for all jobs.

Statistics from PayScale indicate that the median pay for account executives in the United States was $53,000 and account managers in the United States was $54,000 annually as of December 2019.

Similarities Between Account Executives and Account Managers

Account executives and account managers create and manage the professional relationships that drive business success. For this reason, there are many overlaps in their skill sets. Both professionals exist in a multitude of industries, such as finance, retail, and advertising. They need great interpersonal skills that they put to work understanding their clients’ needs while ensuring expectations stay reasonable. With backgrounds in marketing, communications, or business, both aspiring account executives and account managers are ready to pursue entry-level jobs, eventually working their way up to higher-level positions.

Differences Between Account Executives and Account Managers

Despite a number of similarities, there are also important differences between account executives and account managers to note. These include the day-to-day job duties in each position, as well as some of the specific skills required to perform them successfully.

Job Duties

Account executives aim to make connections with new clients through networking events, research, sales calls and visits, and other promotional tactics. Their primary responsibility is to employ sales strategies and psychology principles to forge relationships with new clients and earn their business. For this reason, their daily tasks often involve networking and promotion.

Account managers handle clients who are already signed on to work with the company, ensuring the relationship remains beneficial for both parties. This may involve renegotiating contracts, communicating with other departments to ensure deliverables are high-quality and on schedule, and confirming that both the business and the client are able to meet the terms of their agreement. As such, they spend most of their time in an office setting, connecting with clients through email and by phone or visiting clients.

Job Skills

To fulfill their different responsibilities, account executives and account managers must have specific skills. While both must have good interpersonal skills, the role of account executive requires extensive knowledge of sales tactics and the psychology of sales. They use these skills, coupled with interpersonal communication, to land new clients.

Account managers don’t develop new accounts but rather maintain and nurture existing ones. While they need interpersonal skills, too, it’s just as important that they be able to manage their time to serve their clients well.

Account Executive vs. Account Manager: Which Is Right for You?

Are you eager to help businesses succeed by connecting with clients and helping them reach their goals? Positions such as account executive and account manager are well suited for individuals interested in connecting with others through conversation, email, and written proposals. Both positions help businesses in every industry get ahead on their goals and achieve their missions.

Are you interested in meeting new people, attending network events, and making introductions that leave a lasting impression? If so, you may prefer an account executive’s role. On the other hand, if nurturing mutually beneficial relationships over the course of several years appeals to you, you may be happier as an account manager. Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication can help you develop the communication skills and business savvy you need to succeed in either position. Find out more about how this degree can help you achieve your professional goals.

Recommended Readings
Effective Business Communication for Millennials and Gen Z

Future Communication Trends: An In-Depth Look

The Future of Media: Concepts and Trends for Communication Professionals

Ad Age, “The Case of the Curious Octopus: The Evolution of the Account Manager”

Houston Chronicle, “The Roles of a Retail Account Manager”

IBIS World, “Fastest Growing Industries in the U.S. by Revenue Growth in 2019”

Maryville University, Online Bachelor of Arts in Communication

MediaBistro, “What Does An Account Executive Do?”

PayScale, Average Account Executive Salary

PayScale, Average Account Manager Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sales Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sales Occupations 

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