I have had more than one person question me about why I spend so much time reading, writing, and talking about marketing and promotion. Implied in this question is that auditors are wasting their time when they spend too much time in these areas. And even those who recognize there are important marketing aspects within internal audit have indicated that I might be going overboard. But I am firmly convinced that the survival of any audit department is deeply rooted in a profound understand of the importance and practical application of marketing techniques.
I recently reread a blog entry from Seth Godin. (For those who have not seen my previous posts referencing Seth or have not visited his site, he is a marketing guy who understands that marketing has implications far beyond the marketing department. There is a lot of value to auditors in what he says.) You can see the entire post here, but I want to pull out a few parts that answer the question "Why spend so much time as an auditor talking about marketing?"
We'll start with this quote from the start of Seth's blog. "When George Washington was a teenager, did he really, really, really want a car? Unlikely. In order to want something, you probably need to know it exists."
The explanation for why marketing is so important to internal audit starts with these three sentences. (One word is a sentence, right?). To want something, you need to know it exists. Audit committees know we exist. (I'm going to assume that one is true. If not, you have even bigger problems.) There is a good chance senior executives know we exist. We hope other executives know we exist. But as you go deeper in the organization, who knows of the existence of internal audit? Do the directors? Do the managers? Do the supervisors? Do the line personnel?
Rule #1: To want your audit services, people have to know you exist.
Later, Seth states, "One definition of marketing is persuading the world it wants what you have, whether they can afford it or not."
After making sure everyone knows you exist, the next issue is persuading people that internal audit is something they want – in fact, something they cannot live without. We all know the company cannot live without us, but do the employees (executive management on down) know it. Face it; in many situations auditors are tolerated. Given a choice, many of our customers would rather we just leave them alone. But, if we constantly market our benefits, market the value we add, and market ourselves as part of the company's success, we will teach people how badly they want and need us.
I keep bringing up the need to interact with all levels of the company, and there are two important reasons (among many):
First, you never know who will be in charge some day. Some of the best working relationships I have with executives are with individuals I worked with twenty years ago. Back in the day (when we all had to work on our computers using coal lanterns), these future executives were lowly worker bees just like me. But our audit staff continually showed value to them and, now that they are the powers that be, they turn to audit as a partner.
Second, people who understand the value you provide are more willing to work with you as a partner. I think I've told the story before, so I'll make it short. A few years ago, we went back into a claims office we had audited the previous year and one of the clerical staff literally said, "Oh boy, the auditors are here. This will be fun." Evidence that we would be well-received and employees would be working closely with us to provide the information we needed.
And, before we lay out rule #2, there is one more aspect of this last quote from Seth's blog I want to call out. "…whether they can afford it or not". There is a group of people out there (probably not the kind that read this blog anyway) who believe that internal audit is a requirement and, therefore, it will always exist. Why should we market internal audit when the company is forced to have an internal audit function? [Next two sentences should be read in your best Mister Rogers voice.] Can you say "outsourcing?" I knew you could. Of course there are requirements for reviews, but there is absolutely no guarantee it will be you. And there is no guarantee that the proper amount of resources will be allocated.
Rule #2: You must persuade people they want you.
Rule #2A: And persuade them to pay anything to get what you have.
Two rules down; two to go. Next Monday I'll continue with the remaining rules. Until then, have you seen these rules succeed? Feel free to share your stories of marketing success.