Steve Martin is the author of 7 books on sales strategy, and is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review. He teaches at the University of Southern California Marshall Business School MBA Program. He is the Vice President of Sales at AuditBoard.
I’d like to tell you about the most extraordinary technology sales organization—and I should know since I’ve had the privilege to study hundreds of high-tech sales organizations and interview thousands of salespeople and vice presidents of sales. What makes this sales organization unique is that it is composed of auditors and former Big Four finance and risk management consultants. No salespeople work at the company.
That company is AuditBoard. AuditBoard provides next-generation cloud-based Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and internal audit management software to Fortune 5000 companies. The decision to hire subject matter experts may seem somewhat obvious since the sales organization has to interact with auditors and other finance department team members on a daily basis. Based on my experience, AuditBoard’s domain expert sales team is one of a kind in the software industry—but there’s more to the story of how this exceptional sales organization came to be.
AuditBoard was founded by former chief audit executives who were frustrated by the lack of a quality software solution that could improve their departments’ effectiveness. At the time, options were limited to legacy governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) systems that were outdated and cumbersome to use, or bolt-on products that massive enterprise resource planning (ERP) software companies added as an afterthought for the audit market. Crucially, both types of solutions were built by software programmers who didn’t really understand an auditor’s day to day life or the job’s particular pains and challenges.
This unfilled need is what drove the founders to create AuditBoard. They wanted to create a solution built from the auditor’s perspective that would that would streamline the activities and processes auditors deal with every day. So, they developed a product based on audit best practices to make the user experience intuitive and natural to how an auditor actually thinks and works. Now, how would they sell it?
Auditing is a complex field that involves the evaluation of processes, systems, and controls that ensure financial and operational accuracy. An auditor assesses the accuracy of company information and tests the controls that are in place to manage organizational risk. Auditors typically have a business or master’s degree in accounting, finance, or economics. They possess advanced certifications such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), or Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). It takes years to develop the technical proficiency to carry out audits—a background that can’t be learned overnight.
From when the company was founded through the present day, all the competitive products on the market were sold by professional GRC salespeople. AuditBoard’s founders knew the limitations of hiring this type of salesperson based upon their own experiences. Usually, such salespeople were barely sufficient at describing their own products, let alone offering best practice recommendations to add meaningful value to the department’s operation. Therefore, the founders decided they would staff their sales organization only with people who have deep audit domain expertise—former chief audit executives, audit directors, and experienced finance and accounting professionals.
Whereas the professional GRC salesperson will have a title like sales director, account executive, or account representative, AuditBoard chose the more fitting title of director of solutions advisory services in accordance with the peer-based selling strategy they employ.
The strategy has been so successful that all areas of AuditBoard—from development to client success to sales—are composed of former auditors and subject matter experts. Since they’ve been in the customer’s shoes, they understand the demands they’re under and strive to make auditors’ jobs and lives better. In fact, the foundational purpose of AuditBoard is to help auditors “Audit Happy”—enabling them to conduct more effective audits by sharing expertise, contributing to their industry knowledge, and providing innovative technology.
Today, thousands of auditors are on the AuditBoard platform daily—from companies that went through the IPO process like TrueCar and TradeDesk, to Fortune 100 companies including Intel and Tripadvisor. What these companies have in common is that they selected AuditBoard after exhaustive evaluation processes and extensive hands-on product testing. Most importantly, all their interactions during their evaluation, implementation, and ongoing through customer success were with fellow auditors.