Internal auditors spend a lot of time trying to convert people. In some cases, the conversions are small: "Here are the findings — let's come to agreement on what is wrong and how to make it better." In other cases, the conversions are much larger: "In spite of what you think, internal audit is not here to bayonet your wounded; we're here to help the organization achieve its objectives." When we do that job well, we build a circle of advocates who become our best promoters.
We talk a lot about how to make those conversions — how to sell internal audit to the naysayers who see us as the enemy. And honing that sales pitch
is important, as many clients will respond well to our efforts. But we seldom discuss when we should stop selling and just simply walk away.
The nasty truth is that some people will never buy what internal audit sells. They have been burned, they have their own agendas, or they just refuse to see internal audit as an ally. And as the old saying goes, never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Internal auditors must recognize that some clients, no matter how much we try to convince them, will never sing the praises of internal audit. And once we have identified them, we must be willing to walk away.
Of course, ours is a risk-based approach, and if the risks lie within the purview of someone who just doesn't like us, we can't abandon the person, department, or organization. No, even in the face of dislike and even pure hatred, we must still do our work, maintain our standards, and continue to move forward. But that doesn't mean we should waste additional effort trying to convince the client of our added value.
Keep in mind that, even when we "give up" on such clients, we are still selling ourselves to them. First, by continually providing value, we keep chipping away at the wall they have erected between their department and ours.
But a more important sales job — and the more convincing one — comes from that circle of advocates. Redirecting our efforts away from those advocates as we try to sell to the naysayers can begin eroding our fan base. But if we maintain our focus on those fans, they become stronger advocates. And the word will start to get around. And soon enough the naysayers will hear their co-workers praise internal audit as a group that provides value, is a trusted advisor, and represents a real partner to the business.
Tom Peters (as he so often does) put it best: "Greatest waste of time? Trying to 'convert' non-believers. Instead, surround 'em. That is, you don't 'convert.' 'They' 'discover' — come to appreciate what you're doing because a couple of
their pals have joined up." When it comes to selling internal audit, sometimes the client's voice speaks the loudest.