top of page

Subscribe and be the first to know!

Thanks for subscribing!

Account Executive vs Customer Success Manager: What's the Difference?


For those new to the world of sales, selecting the right career pathway early on can have a significant positive impact on their long-term success. Many young professionals grapple with the decision of whether to pursue a career as an Account Executive (AE) or a Customer Success Manager (CSM). With the growing prominence of both roles, this choice becomes even more critical. In this article, we will delve into the similarities and differences between AEs and CSMs, providing you with a clearer perspective to help you make an informed decision and set yourself on the best path for your career journey. Industry Growth of both roles The roles of Account Executive (AE) and Customer Success Manager (CSM) are experiencing significant growth worldwide. According to the LinkedIn Global Talent Trends 2021 report, the number of people working in sales roles, including AEs, has seen a 45% increase in demand between 2016 and 2021. Similarly, the demand for CSM roles has risen by 52% during the same period. A study by McKinsey & Company supports this trend, stating that the number of people working in customer success roles has doubled in the past five years. These figures highlight the importance and relevance of both AEs and CSMs in the modern business landscape. What's an Account Executive? An Account Executive is a sales professional responsible for building and maintaining relationships with clients, identifying new business opportunities, and closing deals. They act as the primary point of contact between a company and its customers, ensuring that client's needs are met and that they are satisfied with the products or services being provided. Account Executives can be found in a variety of industries, such as technology, advertising, finance, and healthcare. The average base salary for this role is $70,000, with on-target earnings (OTE) reaching up to $120,000. Account Executive key responsibilities include:

  1. Identifying and qualifying leads to generate new business opportunities.

  2. Presenting and demonstrating products or services to potential clients.

  3. Building and maintaining relationships with clients to ensure customer satisfaction and retention.

  4. Negotiating contracts and closing deals to drive sales revenue.

  5. Collaborating with internal teams to ensure seamless client onboarding and ongoing support.

Important skills for this role include communication, negotiation, problem-solving, and resilience. What's a Customer Success Manager?

A Customer Success Manager, on the other hand, is focused on ensuring that clients are achieving their desired outcomes with a product or service. They work closely with clients to understand their goals, provide guidance and support, and proactively address potential issues. Industries, where CSMs are commonly found, include software-as-a-service (SaaS), e-commerce, telecommunications, and financial services. The average base salary for a CSM is $75,000, with on-target earnings (OTE) ranging between $90,000 and $110,000.

Customer Success Manager key responsibilities include:

  1. Building and maintaining strong customer relationships to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  2. Understanding customer goals and providing guidance and support to help them achieve their desired outcomes.

  3. Identifying opportunities for upselling, cross-selling, and promoting customer retention.

  4. Proactively addressing potential issues and escalating them as needed to prevent customer churn.

  5. Collaborating with internal teams to ensure product enhancements and improvements align with customer needs and expectations.

Key skills valued in this role are empathy, active listening, adaptability, and collaboration.

Similarities and Differences between the Roles

Both AEs and CSMs are responsible for driving revenue. While AEs primarily focus on generating net new revenue through acquiring new clients and upselling existing ones, CSMs are responsible for revenue retention and growth by ensuring customer satisfaction and promoting upsell opportunities.

There are several key differences between AEs and CSMs. While AEs are primarily focused on sales and closing deals, CSMs concentrate on maintaining and expanding existing client relationships. AEs typically have sales targets and quotas, whereas CSMs' success is measured by customer retention, satisfaction (Net Promoter Scores or NPS), and upsell rates.

Experience Requirements

To begin a career as an AE or CSM, a bachelor's degree is often, but not always, required, along with 1-3 years of relevant experience. For AEs, a background in sales, marketing, or business development is beneficial. For CSMs, experience in account management, customer service, or a similar field is valuable. Both roles require strong communication and interpersonal skills. Career Pathways

The career path trajectory and upward mobility opportunities for both roles are promising. AEs can advance into senior sales roles, sales management, or even director or VP of sales positions. CSMs can progress into senior CSM roles, team lead positions, or move into customer success leadership roles such as director or VP of customer success.

Which role is right for you?

Ultimately, the decision between pursuing a career as an Account Executive or a Customer Success Manager comes down to personal preference and individual strengths. Both roles offer fantastic opportunities for growth and success, but it's essential to reflect on your aspirations, skills, and values to determine which path is the right fit for you.

Vince Bowry is the Founder of Blackbridge. For more information on our solutions, contact us.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page