Account executives can easily be considered the foundational layer of a corporation’s entire sales operation.
Responsible for driving sales, managing customer relationships and maintaining knowledge of company products and services, account executives often serve as the face of the company and drive much of the company’s top line revenues.
In addition to retaining updated information on the company and its products, account executives also need to stay on top of industry trends while developing new business opportunities.
Results speak volumes, and when account executives are able to drive significant revenue for their company, they need to be paid accordingly.
What is an appropriate salary for an
Account Executive in 2022?
How much do account executives get paid? A lot and — if you ask many of them — not enough. In most companies, nothing happens until something gets sold. There are many, many other people who contribute to a company’s success, but everyone acknowledges that sales is one of the essential ingredients.
Good AEs are always in demand, and salaries can soar to nearly stratospheric levels. How much an AE gets paid is influenced by many factors including:
- Track record
- Years of experience
- Size of employer
- Years of tenure at employer
- Employer’s industry
- Industry knowledge and connections
- Method of compensation
AEs may be paid a straight salary, a salary plus commission, or straight commission. On one end, straight salary with zero or small commission tends to yield the lowest overall compensation. On the other end, 100% commissioned sales people who aren’t limited by a commission cap (a level of sales beyond which the commission is throttled severely or eliminated) are typically the highest earners in a given industry. Most AEs receive some blend of base salary and commission in an average ratio of 60% commission to 40% salary based on an expected level of earning. And that’s where our averages, low bars and high levels come in. These differ significantly by industry, and within industries by the size of company and experience level of the AE.
Where the job is located plays a major role in determining pay. This is because some industries (such as software and finance) are highly concentrated geographically and because the cost of living is vastly different from area to area. The median-priced home in Dubuque, IA is $166,000; in Austin, TX it’s $585,000 and in San Francisco, $1.5 million and these differences and others affect pay scales. Salary .com has a simple tool that provides a rough guide to cost of living differences by zip code: https://www.salary.com/research/cost-of-living.
According to research from Glassdoor, the average starting pay for an account executive is $59,000 across all industries and all experience levels. The differences appear when the size of company and years of experience are factored in. For our analysis, we looked average pay in three scenarios:
- Low — less than one year experience at a small company with fewer than 50 employees total
- High — average salary for AEs with 15 years experience at large companies (1,000 or more employees)
- Highest — Highest average salaries for AEs with 15 years experience at large companies
It’s important to note that AE salaries have a wider range than these averages show. A small company might pay a newcomer $40,000 or less; some very experienced AEs in large companies or companies in high-paying industries such as pharmaceuticals or software routinely make $250,000 annually or more.
- Average: $59,0000
- Low: $49,000
- High: $93,000
- Highest: $170,000
Biotech & Pharma
While other industries were rocked to their core by the covid pandemic, some biotech and pharma firms — especially those with treatments and those providing basic supplies — took off. One rep selling tests reported earning $30,000 in commission in a single month — in addition to a healthy base salary. The money that washes around in biotech, pharma and medical is reflected in high average earnings: $75,000 across all size companies and all experience levels.
- Average: $75,0000
- Low: $56,000
- High: $80,000
- Highest: $165,000
The category is broad as is the earning potential for AEs. Anything a business buys that doesn’t directly contribute to making a product falls in here, ranging from consulting to legal to security. The upside of business services is that every business needs them and and AE is usually talking to someone who understands what they’re selling and can quickly qualify themselves as real prospects. Downsides include the business cycle: When the economy slows down, services (especially those not sold on a longterm contrac) can be early on the chopping block.
- Average: $53,0000
- Low: $43,000
- High: $60,000
- Highest: $97,000
Like business services, consumer services includes many different varieties of products: insurance, legal advice, travel, prepared food, car and home warranties, security services … anything a consumer might buy that’s not a hard good. While home warranties are boring (and can be hard to sell) there are some high-fliers in this segment as the pandemic-driven Peloton craze showed.
- Average: $55,000
- Low: $58,000
- High: $57,000
- Highest: $99,000
Like biotech, health services got a massive boost from consumer, corporate and government spending in the past two years. Companies added more health specialists to their HR and admin teams to cope with the pandemic new varieties of services popped up to cope with new demands and higher need. Many forecasters expect that trend to continue, even when the current pandemic fades away. When that happens, AEs who sell health services will become even more important as they work to penetrate all levels of the market
- Average: $66,0000
- Low: $58,000
- High: $69,000
- Highest: $112,000
Tech: Hardware & Software
Ever advancing hardware and software threatens to leave companies that don’t upgrade in the dust — and promises to put them in front of competition if they do. The sheer number and variety of hardware and software options makes this a fertile field for AEs: The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, the premier trade show event for the industry, attracted 182,000 participants and more than 4,400 exhibitors in 2019, showing the breadth and potential of the segment. AEs in this industry have to keep on top of tehcnology themselves, and lifelong learning is a hallmark of those who are successful.
- Average: $72,0000
- Low: $63,000
- High: $106,000
- Highest: $192,000
Tech: Cloud & SaaS
Tech is part of every business, and some subsegments present their own peculiar payscales and career challenges for AEs. The number of Cloud and Sotware As A Service (SaaS) providers has exploded and shows no sign of slowing down. While this can be a bumpy ride for AEs — there’s a major difference in stability between working for Apple or Google and working for a SaaS startup — it can also be very lucrative. Cloud/SaaS providers who gain traction often have eye-popping growth rates, with revenues (and sales commissions) racing upwards. This is an area where averages go out the window, as the chasm between a struggling start up and an established player is wider than the Grand Canyon.
- Average: $55,000
- Low: $60,000
- High: $65,000
- Highest: $162,000
All those companies and all those computers means there are plenty of services needed, from basic IT support to network design consulting to data communications. This is another “perennial” industry where the level of need rarely goes down, except when the economy diminishes a company’s ability to buy. AEs who sell services benefit from repeat customers and plenty of prospects. This plentiful pipeline helps support some of the highest average earnings for AEs who stick with it.
- Average: $54,000
- Low: $58,000
- High: $95,000
- Highest: $208,000
Like tech, every business has financial needs which are often filled by outside service providers. Whether that’s an ADT or a Big 5 auditing firm. Individuals need financial services, whether from a bank, a broker or wealth manager. Oftentimes, AEs find their contacts with corporate executives can be parlayed into services for them as individuals. Investopedia estimated that, worldwide, financial services brought in sales of $22.5 trillion in 2021 out of a global GDP of $93 trillion.
- Average: $54,000
- Low: $51,000
- High: $69,000
- Highest: $137,000
Once the pinnacle and most coveted career track for AEs, manufacturing may have lost some of its glamor, but not any of its rewards. It’s still among the best-paying industries for AEs. Much of the manufacturing base may have moved overseas, but the customers are still very much still here and AEs are the ones who get them to buy.
- Average: $66,000
- Low: $54,000
- High: $81,000
- Highest: $141,000
Telecom covers everything from cell phones to terabit-per-second industrial grade data connections, with a wide a range of AE salaries to match. Generally, the industry doesn’t pay as well as it’s cousins in the pure tech family although, at the most experienced AEs match the earnings of pure tech players. Average: $66,000
- Average: $53,000
- Low: $54,000
- High: $62,000
- Highest: $114,000
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