By Michael Libman
First, a disclaimer: I’ve always thought the title “AE” or “Account Executive” sounded too salesy. When I worked at iHeart Media in 2013, my title was “Integrated Media Solutions Provider.” Pretty long, but it makes more sense. If you do what I do, you’re not an “executive to an account.” You provide solutions. Okay, moving on …
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, so I’ve known business owners my entire life. Both of my grandparents on each side of my family owned their own businesses. My mom and dad each own their own businesses. And I’ve co-owned a business with my cousin for 11 years. I grew up working in the backs of warehouses, loading semi trucks, shipping off pallets, helping with State Fair booths, meeting with customers and vendors, and attending tons of trade shows. I’ve been blessed to have learned from some of the best business owners out there: my dad and my grandfather.
I always wanted to be involved long-term with something non-corporate: no spreadsheets, quotas, attendance or micro-managing. A place of business where doing the right thing = organic growth. And that’s Media Bridge Advertising in a nutshell. Here, I’ve never made a cold call. We literally grow when our clients grow, and it produces an amazing chemistry. Owner and founder Tracy Call was my client and friend for over 10 years before I joined MB. For years, I begged her to let me work for her—until I finally wore her down and she let me in.
I came into MB with nothing, and then I started to build. I wasn’t handed an account list or a big fat salary. I was told to go talk to and work with like-minded businesses and people, and that the rest would come naturally. Fast forward to today: We’re in over 200 markets and have close to 100 clients and partners, and most have been with us from the beginning. Exactly what Tracy said would happen, happened.
With that backdrop, here are my tips on how to be an effective “AE”:
1. Listen. Stop talking. And listen.
So many sales people talk too much. I mean, WAAAYYYY too much. Seriously, stop talking and start listening. Yes, a business owner wants to hear what you have to offer. That’s why they’re meeting with you. More importantly, learn about them first: their needs, wants, objectives, concerns. Then instead of talking and talking about how everything you have is the best, find a solution that meets their needs and will solve their immediate problem.
2. Do the right thing.
This is a Media Bridge core value, and I live by it. If you constantly do the right thing, everything else will fall into place. If you start going down the road of smoke and mirrors, lies, hiding the truth, over-promising and under-delivering, it will catch up with you. The regret isn’t worth the short-term gain. I’m a huge believer in karma. “Treat people how you want to be treated” and always do the right thing. It’s that simple.
3. Have your teammates backs. Always.
I once had a manager who turned to me on the way to a sales call and said, “If you do what you truly believe is right for our clients, I will always have your back.” Mistakes will be made in any business. You have to have faith in your team, your management and your leadership. If you don’t, then you have the wrong team. Teammates need your support. Always. A team without trust is incapable of growth.
4. Provide solutions vs sales opps.
Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they have a passion, love, niche, brilliant idea or unique model. They didn’t achieve success by being sold things they don’t need. Now that I’ve been on this side of the table, it’s obvious when partners and vendors are pushing something vs. providing actual solutions. You can’t fool a smart business owner, so don’t even try.
5. Make their brand your own.
This one starts with doing your homework. If you’re not prepped for a meeting, turn around and go home. The internet has eliminated your last excuse for NOT knowing the people, business, website, offerings and services intimately. When we sign a new client, partner or vendor, we live and breathe their brands as if they were our own. We use their products and services. We help them grow. We form partnerships with our other clients and do cross-promotions. I know every client and partner we work with personally, and I’m rarely stumped by any question about them. At MB, we treat each other and our partners like family. It’s business, but it’s also personal.
6. Ask for help. Own it.
It’s impossible to avoid mistakes in business, and it’s impossible to know everything. People have different strengths and skills, so don’t be shy in asking for help. We use the motto “elevate and delegate.” I say own it. I have no shame in asking someone to help me with something I know they’re better at. That’s how you grow, and that’s how you form a great company. If you ask for help quickly, you’ll find a great resolution. If you wait, you’ll end up digging yourself out of a ditch. Our CFO recently told me that he admires the fact that I always ask for help vs. making excuses on why something went wrong. It was a great compliment, because I’ve practiced that my entire life.
7. Keep learning.
We use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) at MB, and it works. It forces everyone to raise issues, solve them, and learn from one another. If you don’t know EOS, look it up. I’m not required to go on appointments with others, but I do it constantly. I could tell you everything about every department we have and service we provide, because I’m constantly learning from others. I also listen to multiple podcasts and Audible books on business, skills set training, entrepreneurship and leadership. Listening to others’ stories makes me want to get better at what I do. And that’s a feeling you should never lose.
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There’s no right or wrong to becoming a great “AE,” and I’m not the best by any means. I don’t have the most experience, but I do have a track record and have been building a long list of loyal clients. In the end, it comes down to this: Practice what you preach. Always do the right thing. Always be honest. And always do what’s in the best interest of your clients and partners. It’s worked for me, and I hope it works for you.
Love you. Miss you. Hugs and money. —ML