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How Accruent responds to 5x more RFPs using RFPIO

How Accruent responds to 5x more RFPs using RFPIO

Accruent is an SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) company dedicated to helping customers and clients with their physical space and asset management. In […]


Category: Tag: Security questionnaire

How Accruent responds to 5x more RFPs using RFPIO

How Accruent responds to 5x more RFPs using RFPIO

Accruent is an SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) company dedicated to helping customers and clients with their physical space and asset management. In recent years, the company has seen notable growth as they’ve acquired other companies to increase their share in the space. They now have nine different products—all of them technical in nature.

Between all those products, the proposals team has a lot of RFPs (request for proposals) to manage and is regularly juggling several at once. According to Jack Pearce, Manager of the Proposal Team, the technical nature of Accruent’s products means the proposals team doesn’t have the knowledge required to answer all the questions themselves. But the company’s subject matter experts (SMEs) are busy people, and the team has to be cautious how much of their time they ask for.

Before Jack became the proposal manager at Accruent, he was a proposal writer. As such, he knew the company had access to RFPIO. But he never used it himself. “None of us did,” he explained. “It wasn’t really rolled out properly. No one was trained on it, everyone just thought it was another system they had to learn.”

They had some content stored in it, but none of it was organized. As a proposal writer, Jack hadn’t fully understood the value of RFPIO. But as a proposal manager, his view changed. Suddenly, he saw how much potential the tool had to make all their lives easier.

Making RFPIO’s potential a reality

In 2020, Jack embarked on a project to re-roll out RFPIO at Accruent. He worked with his colleague James May, at that time a Proposal Writer new to the organization, to better organize the content already contained in RFPIO’s Content Library. They reworked the collections the content was organized within, and created a better tagging structure. They now have nine content collections—one for each product—and another collection for security questions.

Beyond that initial project of getting the Content Library in good shape, they make a point of performing ongoing content maintenance. Whenever James—now considered the company’s resident RFPIO guru—isn’t busy working on an RFP, he devotes time to cleaning up the tags, makes sure the moderation queue is at zero (or close to it), and works with SMEs to keep all content up to date.

RFPIO is now central to Accruent’s RFP process

The proposals team now knows to start the RFP process in RFPIO, and to complete as much of it as they can using the content available. That creates a better relationship with the company’s SMEs, who now know that anytime the proposals team asks for their help, it means they’ve already done as much as they can on their own. Even better, they know each answer they provide will go in the Content Library, saving them that much more time on future RFPs.

In addition to the Content Library, the team also gets a lot of value from RFPIO’s collaboration features. Between everyone involved in the proposal process, they often have 3-8 SMEs working on RFPs at a time. Enabling efficient communication between the various people involved is important.

Before RFPIO, “Every time someone didn’t like an answer, we’d have to have a call about it,” explains Jack. “Now we just use the comments function in RFPIO to facilitate that conversation.” That makes for a more efficient process, and keeps all the correspondence in one place.

The proposals team aren’t the only ones who feel the difference. Chris Low, a Senior Account Director at Accruent, has also shared his feelings on the change: “RFPIO and the processes the team created around it make collaborating with our amazing proposals team even easier. From a simple intake form, to answering questions at a canter with the library, it’s been a huge help and certainly attestable to winning new business.”

The result: submitting more RFPs, with more confidence

With the help of the Content Library in RFPIO, the proposals team is now able to complete around 50% of all RFP questions on their own. That increases efficiency to the degree that they’ve gone from working on 5-6 live RFPs at a time to tackling 15-25 live projects at once. “That is simply because we can do more because of the platform,” Jack says.

Completing more RFPs has also made them better at determining which ones are worth their time. In practice, that has meant fewer no-gos than before. “It’s given us the confidence to take on more opportunities,” Jack shared.

They’ve also seen a big difference in how they handle security questionnaires. The responsibility for those has generally fallen to one person—and it was really too much work to put on him alone. Now, the proposals team is generally able to get 75% of the questionnaires completed on the first pass. That’s cut the response time from ten days to five.

Before RFPIO After RFPIO
Answering RFP questions meant asking busy SMEs to give up their time The proposals team is able to answer around 50% of all questions on their own, giving SMEs that time back
They juggled 5-6 live RFPs at a time They handle 15-25 live RFPs at a time
Security questionnaires were primarily the responsibility of one SME, and took around 10 days to complete The proposals team can answer 75% of the security questionnaire before they send it on to the SME, and they’re completed in half the time
They were limited in how many RFPs they felt comfortable responding to Replying to more RFPs has increased their confidence in which ones they believe they can win, meaning an increase in the number they submit

Jack and his team don’t mince words when they talk about the difference RFPIO has made. “A life without RFPIO would not be worth living,” he says. “It would be bloody difficult. And you can quote me on that.”

According to T.C. Kaiser, SVP – Global Solution Consulting at Accruent, “Our proposals team has a high volume of projects live and RFPIO enables them to deliver with speed while maintaining a high level of quality. Our team relies on the platform to deliver value to our organization and make the best impression with our customers.”

When it came time for Jack to make the case to superiors for renewal last year, he reports, “I said, ‘this is non-negotiable. If we don’t have RFPIO, we cannot do as much work as we do currently.’”

Not that anyone needed much convincing. The proposal process is so centered on RFPIO that people have taken to referring to the proposals team as the “RFPIO team.” According to Jack, “that is probably the biggest compliment we can give the system.”

How to respond to a security questionnaire

How to respond to a security questionnaire

If you’re like me, you regularly receive emails advising you to change your passwords because one company or another has suffered a security breach. Unfortunately, data breaches are all too common.

In 2021, there were over 1,800 reported data breaches. That is a significant uptick from prior years. 83% of those breaches involved sensitive customer information, such as Social Security and credit card numbers.

The average data breach costs $4.4 million, and much of that is passed on to customers—the same customers who had their sensitive data compromised.

No wonder many businesses now consider cybersecurity their number one concern. Not only does a data breach cost money, it also runs the risk of damaging credibility and eroding trust. Some companies, especially small companies, never recover.

More than half of organizations have experienced third-party data breaches, often despite having what they think is a rigorous security protocol.

The average tech stack might contain dozens of different applications and tools. Sometimes, bad actors sneak in through one of those third-party applications, so it’s critical to properly vet each vendor’s security protocols as you would your own.

The most common way to vet vendors is through security questionnaires. But what are security questionnaires, and how do you respond to them in a way that you, as a vendor, will instill trust?

What is a security questionnaire?

After reading this far, you probably have a good idea of what a security questionnaire is. Still, to boil it down, it’s a questionnaire designed to determine whether a vendor or potential vendor is compliant with your security and legal requirements.

Not surprisingly, security questionnaires are complex and highly technical. The good news is that most questions have “yes” or “no” answers.

DDQ vs. security questionnaire

Many people confuse security questionnaires and DDQs (due diligence questionnaires). It’s easy to see why, as both are issued to assess a company’s compliance with the issuer’s regulations and security requirements.

Neither DDQs nor security questionnaires are specifically part of a sales cycle, although they may be issued before entering into a contract. They might also be issued before an organization is even buying to weed out non-compliant companies before and if the buying process begins.

There are significant differences between the two types of documents, however. You’re most likely to see DDQs if you’re in the financial segment. They are broader in scope than security questionnaires and may ask about business plans, profits and losses, revenue, etc. They might also ask about cybersecurity policies.

A security questionnaire is more straightforward and can be issued from any segment to any organization, although primarily to tech companies. While DDQs ask broad questions about processes, often in narrative form, a security questionnaire forces you to pony up your proof of compliance.

You might see both a DDQ and security questionnaire before receiving an RFP. Generally, the DDQ will come first. Once the issuer is satisfied that you meet their requirements, they might send a security questionnaire to gather certificates and other forms of proof.

In some cases, a security questionnaire follows an RFP and could be the last step before finalizing a deal.

Preparing for a security questionnaire response

Security questionnaires usually arrive via the response manager or perhaps through a CRM. Since most questions center around cybersecurity, SMEs can be from IT, risk management, sales engineering, accounting, information security, operations, and even HR.

The response turnaround time is typically shorter with a security questionnaire than with an RFx. The issuer might want it within days.

Components of a security questionnaire

There are many, many types of security questionnaires, and it would be impossible to list them in this blog post, but here are some examples of what a security questionnaire might assess:

  • Network security
  • Information security
  • Datacenter and physical security
  • Web application security
  • Infrastructure security
  • Business continuity
  • Security audits and penetration testing
  • Personnel policies, hiring practices, and training programs
  • Security certifications
  • SLAs and uptime vs. downtime

Types of security questionnaires

There are several types of security questionnaires, but primarily, you will see these:

Security Questionnaires and Security Questionnaires Lite – Standardized Information Gathering Questionnaires

  • VSAQ – Vendor Security Assessment Questionnaire
  • CAIQ – Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire
  • VSA – Vendor Security Alliance Questionnaire
  • NIST 800-171 – National Institute of Standards and Technology Questionnaire
  • CIS Controls – Center for Internet Security Questionnaire

How to respond to security questionnaires – and how RFPIO will help

If you are a response manager, you’re likely very comfortable responding to an RFx or even a DDQ. Both allow for a bit of creativity, in that, along with answering questions, you’re constructing a narrative to show how your company is the right fit for the issuer.

Security questionnaires aren’t about narratives. They are straightforward and stringent, and accuracy is a legal requirement. Clearly, there’s no room for error. If you’re ready, let’s grab a cup of coffee, or your favorite motivational elixir, and dive right in.

Step 1 – Search for all available materials

While security questionnaires are undeniably bulky and complex, there’s a lot of redundancy. You have probably answered many similar questions before. Search your existing database for those answers.

Often, issuers send a boilerplate questionnaire rather than customize it to each product. Eliminate the questions that don’t apply to your product. Don’t be afraid to ask the issuer to clarify questions that seem confusing or unnecessary.

Step 1 with RFPIO – Prebuilt centralized Content Library

RFPIO features the industry-leading AI-powered prebuilt Content Library. Every previous security questionnaire and all your documentation are housed in one place, accessible to any authorized user.

Step 2 – Answer only the pre-existing matching responses

Response management isn’t like school. In fact, copying other people’s work is encouraged. Search your existing database for pre-existing matching responses and use them when you can.

Step 2 with RFPIO – System-driven identification of sections and questions

RFPIO’s import capabilities, which include Lightning import through Salesforce, leverages machine learning to automatically find matching responses, without you having to initiate the process. This feature alone can do up to 80% of the work for you.

Step 3 – Group all unanswered questions and collaborate with SMEs

Once you’ve found all the applicable existing content, you’ll need to collaborate with SMEs to finish the process. Group all your unanswered questions, broken up by SME, and inform them of their timelines.

Step 3 with RFPIO – Automate through AI

RFPIO’s auto-respond feature and recommendation engine find existing documents and similar, although not specifically matching, content for SMEs’ review. As a side benefit, once SMEs recognize the time-saving capabilities of RFPIO, they’ll be far more likely to help you in the future.

Step 4 – Follow up and track the status of responses

Make sure every team member is completing their portion in a timely manner.

Step 4 with RFPIO – Streamline collaboration through project management capabilities

RFPIO’s Project Module offers up-to-the-minute reporting and reminders to ensure that the questionnaire will be ready on time.

Step 5 – Manually collate and complete the questionnaire

Whew! You’ve answered all the questions and all you have to do is collate the answers and export them back to the original document. Unfortunately, for many companies, that’s a manual process which could take hours—and sometimes days.

Step 5 with RFPIO – Export to the source file

RFPIO eliminates all of the cumbersome manual work with automatic exporting to the response file, all within seconds.

Security questionnaire response obstacles

There’s no direct line from a security questionnaire to revenue generation, which is why they’re sometimes left on the back burner. But that’s not the only reason there might be reluctance on the part of your response team. Other obstacles include:

  • Length – A security questionnaire can have hundreds to thousands of questions. That’s more than a little intimidating if the answers aren’t ready to go.
  • You’re time-bound – Sometimes the questionnaire gets stuck in an internal limbo, and sometimes the issuer sends it expecting an almost immediate turnaround. Having most of the answers ready will cut your response time to a fraction of what it could have been.
  • SME cooperation – SMEs are busy people, so understandably, they might not put the security questionnaire at the top of their “to-do” list. Assure them that you value their time by completing as much of the questionnaire as possible.
  • You don’t have all the certifications and protocol – Most companies won’t be able to answer every question in the affirmative. Submit what you have and perhaps see this as an opportunity to reevaluate where your company might be lacking.
  • Too much jargon – Security questionnaires tend to be jargon-heavy, and if you aren’t familiar with what they’re asking, you might not provide an accurate answer. SMEs can help but so can a well-organized, searchable even by jargon, Content Library.
  • Scattered knowledge (identifying and locating the right content) – If you have a siloed knowledge base, tracking everything down is challenging and time-consuming. Upload all of your certificates, documents, and Q&A pairs to a single source of truth accessible to any authorized stakeholder.
  • Non-compliant content management software – If your content management software isn’t compliant with your company’s requirements, SMEs, especially those in security, won’t use it. RFPIO is even secure enough for Microsoft.

Priorities and tips for the response process

As you’re staring down a seemingly infinite inbox and a calendar filled with back-to-back meetings, speed might be your top priority. However, security questionnaires are legal documents, so accuracy is the most crucial consideration. Fortunately, response software with built-in content management helps ensure both.

Streamlining workflow

RFPIO has several tools to help streamline your workflow, including:

  • Import/Export capabilities – Avoid disorganized, inconsistent, illogical formatting by importing security questionnaires right into your customized template for uniformity, making each stakeholder’s job much more manageable. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, upload it onto your branded response template or straight to the source document.
  • Project management – If your workforce is like ours, you have people working from home, on other floors, in other buildings, and across the world. RFPIO helps you virtually gather your scattered stakeholders and track progress without chasing people down.
  • Content management – If I, for some reason, were forced to choose my favorite RFPIO feature, it would be the AI-powered Content Library. It:
    • Busts down silos – RFPIO’s Content Library is a single source of truth, with all of your company’s knowledge and documents in one repository.
    • Does most of the work for you – Once you upload the questionnaire, the Content Library’s magical gnomes—we call them the recommendation engine—comb through past responses to make suggestions. All you have to do is accept, edit, or reject. Since security questionnaires ask yes/no questions, there’s little to no editing.
    • Stores content – As the company creates more knowledge and documents, the Content Library will store them for future use.
    • Organizes content – Format, tag, and generally organize the content how you want.
    • Helps keep you compliant – Since we’re talking about security questionnaires, your security team will love this! RFPIO reminds you of expiration and “shred by” dates. It also reminds you when to review specific content and when to audit.
  • Integrations – RFPIO seamlessly integrates with nearly all the communication apps, CRMs, and productivity apps your company uses every day.
  • RFPIO® LookUp – Access the Content Library from anywhere in the world.
  • Autograph – With RFPIO’s Autograph, there’s no need to hunt signatories down. They can sign right from their computers.

Improving Content Library

Keep your Content Library clean, up to date, and organized by consulting with sales engineers and others involved in answering security questionnaires. Ask for their input in categorizing and tagging.

Keeping information up-to-date

Because security questionnaires are legal documents, accurate and up-to-date information is vital. RFPIO reminds you to clean out all the ROT (redundant, outdated, and trivial) information and documents. It even helps you locate all the ROT.

Software for security questionnaire responses

Many companies still rely on manual responses, which are time-consuming and inefficient.One way to differentiate your company from your competitors is to use advanced response software for security questionnaires.

Response software, such as RFPIO, gives each security questionnaire the thoroughness and scrutiny required while saving your team’s time, keeping SMEs on your good side, and helps keep you compliant.

Automation

If you use a CRM or project management software, you probably already know the benefits of automation. Most users do. In fact, IT professionals, such as those helping answer security questionnaires, save up to 20 hours a week using automated processes.

Automation is a morale booster! 45% of knowledge workers report feeling less burned out when they use automation tools, and 29% say automation lets them leave their jobs at the end of the official workday.

RFPIO’s automated response processes automatically fill in most of your answers to a security questionnaire and pull corresponding documents. One customer reports that after RFPIO security questionnaire automation, they can answer 100 questions in just 2 hours!

Templated responses

Most security questionnaires arrive in Excel, which, as you know, is about as standardized as the snowflakes covering Mount Everest. Excel isn’t to blame. Microsoft designed the OG of spreadsheets to track everything from kids’ activities to trips to space.

RFPIO imports the hundreds to thousands of lines on a security questionnaire spreadsheet onto your customized template, ensuring that everyone knows exactly how to find what they need. Additionally, since many questions are redundant, RFPIO answers those duplicate questions for you.

RFPIO’s approach to security questionnaire responses

Breathe a little easier next time you receive a security questionnaire, knowing that RFPIO has your back. You will save loads of time, create accurate, complete responses, and stay on your SMEs’ good sides.

If you don’t already use RFPIO, try a free demo.

DDQ vs. security questionnaire

DDQ vs. security questionnaire

From content to timing, confusion often surrounds the differences between due diligence questionnaires and security questionnaires. Read on to learn the nuances of each document to improve your responses and win that next deal.

What is a DDQ?

A DDQ stands for due diligence questionnaire. Organizations send them to mitigate risk before entering into an agreement with another company. It is a formal document designed to establish whether a vendor complies with industry and/or customer standards or needs, including how the vendor manages its own network and cybersecurity protocols.

Unlike an RFP, a DDQ is not as much about competitive evaluations. A DDQ is all about compliance and business practices.

What is a security questionnaire?

Much like it sounds, a security questionnaire is sent to potential vendors to determine whether their security protocol meets the issuer’s standards and legal requirements. Security questionnaires are technical and usually highly complex, however most questions are “yes” or “no” rather than narrative.

Note that neither DDQs nor security questionnaires are sales documents.

DDQs vs. Security Questionnaires

Now that you know the definition of a DDQ, let’s get into how security questionnaires are unique, along with a few similarities they share with DDQs.

Common industry

Any organization can issue a DDQ, but we see them most in the financial services industry. Security questionnaires are primarily used by organizations operating in technology—either hardware or software.

Market evaluation

Much like a DDQ, a security questionnaire will not be used as a method of evaluation between vendors. Although, if an organization throws an RFP (request for proposal) into the mix, then both questionnaires play a role in market comparison.

Because a security questionnaire is not a competitive evaluation, the issuer won’t spend time performing a security review with more than five potential vendors. It’s completely different from responding to an RFP, which may be sent out to tons of vendors to cast a wide net.

Issuing departments

Usually, a security questionnaire comes from a security department (infosec, IT security, cloud security, etc.). While a DDQ will not necessarily come from that department—marketing, client services, or compliance teams frequently send these documents to responders.

Sales timing

Security questionnaires and DDQs typically show up early in the sales cycle. They may come in when an organization is trying to set you up as the vendor of choice or before it’s time to renew. Before you can become their new vendor, they need to make sure you’re compliant. If you’re an existing vendor, they might need to ensure you’re still compliant.

Even when you become their vendor partner, you might see a due diligence questionnaire again and again. Especially in the financial services industry, DDQs are sent to vendors annually—even quarterly—so make sure you’re up to speed on industry regulations.

Document types

A security questionnaire is predominantly an Excel spreadsheet. A DDQ could be a spreadsheet, but about 70% of the time, this questionnaire lives in a Word document.

Question types

Security questionnaires tend to be a standard set of questions, where you answer some variation of a yes/no answer in a drop down. You might need to add some commentary to back up your answer. While there will be some black or white questions in a DDQ, there is also room for interpretation and creating a narrative.

Succeeding with Security Questionnaires and DDQs

To knock content out of the park with security questionnaires and DDQs, naturally, the best technique is accuracy. With that top of mind, here are other tips to help you succeed as a responder.

Security Questionnaires

You have a lot less room to knock this content out of the park. Your data is encrypted or it’s not. You either have the firewall or you don’t. It’s not about how you implement the firewall, it’s simply: Do you have the firewall set up?

Stick to the facts

Obviously, one thing you don’t want to do is lie. Let’s say you are asked if you check your disaster recovery plans every 60 days. If your process is checking disaster recovery plans once a year, don’t say “yes.” They will find out 60 days later when you don’t meet their requirements.

Time to completion

Time to completion is a really good thing to shoot for with security questionnaire responses. You’re usually still in an evaluation process where you might be the vendor of choice or you’re one of two choices.

DDQs

Similar to an RFP response, there is more room for creativity with your DDQ content. However, don’t respond to a DDQ exactly as you would to an RFP. Before you respond, consult with the correct SMEs (subject matter experts).

Early stage advice

If you receive a DDQ in the early stages of the sales cycle, this document might be their vendor filtering method. DDQs are not the time for a sales pitch. Instead, consider showing your strengths with compelling and (most importantly) accurate narratives showing compliance. Late stage advice

During the late stage of the cycle, your DDQ might be a recurring document you respond to with an existing client, or it could be in addition to a DDQ you’ve already answered. Get straight to the point and ensure accuracy to show you are still in compliance.

Next steps

If a DDQ is part of a sales process, and even if it’s not, response software such as RFPIO makes answering it a whole lot easier. Your RFPIO Content Library can answer many of a DDQ’s questions with a few clicks.


RFPIO can help you increase DDQ and security questionnaire accuracy and efficiency.  Demo RFPIO today to support your sales process.

4 key elements to keeping security questionnaires accurate and up to date

4 key elements to keeping security questionnaires accurate and up to date

Lack of clarity creates challenges — especially when filling out security questionnaires. When it’s unclear who needs to fill them out, how much detail needs to be included, and how much time it will take, each time you sit down to fill one out can feel challenging.

Luckily, there are experts who can help provide key insights into making the overall security questionnaire process faster, smarter, and stronger. Companies like RFPIO bring teams together by providing software that automates and streamlines the process of responding to a request, so you can respond with confidence to security questionnaires.

Tapping into their knowledge around complex questionnaires like RFPs, RFIs, security questionnaires, and more, we discovered tips you can implement in your own companies. Here are their four key elements to keeping security questionnaires accurate and up to date:

1. Content Moderation

Keep your library up to date by assigning content owners and setting up regular review cycles.

Security questionnaires are often repetitive and require a manual responder to ask the same questions of their internal subject matter experts over and over again. By properly maintaining security questionnaire content, you can build confidence in your response process— advantageous when you’re under a tight deadline—and save time to get back to what you do best.

The ultimate result of good, consistent content management is winning new business. RFPIO makes it simple to set up Content Library moderation by assigning the appropriate content owners, setting a cadence for regular review cycles, and customizing alerts for a cadence that works best for your team and organization.

2. Maintain Accuracy

Flag questions that may be out of date for review.

Accuracy is crucial in security questionnaires. If an incorrect or out-of-date response is submitted, it could cost you the sales opportunity or impact your organization’s reputation. To ensure your response is of the utmost quality and compliance, maintain accurate content and responses that articulate your current offering’s latest and greatest capabilities, and omit what is no longer accurate.

In addition to the above process of assigning content owners and setting up review cycles, we also highly recommend completing a ROT analysis as part of your content audit processes.

ROT stands for “Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial.”

  • Redundant Content is duplicate and/or similar content. If you’re using RFPIO, run a duplicate report on questions and answers, and click on “View Similar Content” to find comparable responses.
  • Outdated Content is expired or sunset content. Isolate any content not used in the last year—“expired content”—using the Advanced Search function in RFPIO. Then, identify content from products, services, and solutions that are no longer relevant—“sunset content”—using tags and/or product names.
  • Trivial Content is deal- or client-specific content. Identify trivial content by searching for specific client names.

Next, move the content you’ve identified out of your active Content Library. We recommend storing this content in an archived collection in RFPIO, so it isn’t permanently deleted.

Including your most recent pentest data is important.
Some security controls are easier to verify than others. For example, it’s relatively easy to ask to see the results of a third-party risk assessment or penetration test that covers the OWASP Top 10 and business logic. It’s harder to prove that a particular security process or best practice is being followed.

When your client does ask to see the results of a recent pentest, your first response might be, “We don’t typically provide that information.” If they press further, you can share a high-level summary of findings, generally referred to as an attestation. Some companies will require that you share detailed findings from a pentest report, and a few may request evidence that findings have been fixed. This is where Cobalt’s customizable reports can save you some valuable time.

3. Automate Your Process

Automatically respond to long and complex questionnaires in a single click with RFPIO’s AI-enabled Content Library.

A response management platform like RFPIO automates almost everything, helping teams cut their response time by 40-50% on average. Automation frees up your time to produce the highest quality deliverable possible—and, of course—move on to other priorities on your to-do list.

With an Content Library full of reviewed, pruned content you can trust, use Auto Respond to quickly fill in relevant content from past responses and minimize how many questions you need to complete manually.

4. Stay Consistent

Respond to each security questionnaire using the same pre-approved and vetted content, ensuring consistency across responses.

When questionnaires are answered manually, there is a likelihood that answers won’t be consistent across different questionnaires or different SMEs writing the answers. This can cause complications during an audit process.

Consistency ensures accurate responses to compliance requirements. Ensure your gold-star, key content is present in your library by employing regular review cycles. This, in turn, ensures consistency in your responses.

This article was co-authored by and co-published with Cobalt. Cobalt provides a Pentest as a Service (PtaaS) platform that is modernizing the traditional, static penetration testing model by providing streamlined processes, developer integrations, and on-demand pentesters. Our blog is where we provide industry best practices, showcase some of our top-tier talent, and share information that’s of interest to the cybersecurity community.

Schedule a demo with RFPIO for more details on automating response to security questionnaires.

10 ways RFPIO customers can strengthen security

10 ways RFPIO customers can strengthen security

$4.35 million. That’s the global average cost of a data breach in 2019, according to Statista.

So it’s no wonder that companies invest heavily in cybersecurity. By 2025, it’s expected that annual global spending on cybersecurity products will exceed $460 billion—and this trend is only expected to continue on its upward trajectory.

If you’re storing company information in RFPIO to streamline your RFP responses, I have good news: RFPIO has state-of-the-art security controls to protect your data. Even so, there are still extra things you can do to further protect your information.

Here are 10 things you can do to further strengthen security in RFPIO:

1. Use SSO: A Sweet Security Option

SSO stands for Single Sign-On, but it is also a super sweet security option. RFPIO uses the most widely accepted industry standard, SAML 2.0.

With SSO, RFPIO users use the credentials they already have to sign in. That means they don’t have to remember (yet another) separate user ID and password—and Admins don’t have to take on the responsibility of managing user credentials.

SSO isn’t just convenient. It’s also more secure. When you use SSO, passwords aren’t stored in the browser and there’s a lower risk of a lost or forgotten password. This prevents security gaps that hackers will exploit to gain unauthorized access to the application.

Additionally, SSO allows Admins to manage user activities in real-time, which gives you the extra visibility you need for a tightly run security program.

2. Automate user management with SCIM

SCIM stands for System for Cross-Domain Identity Management. Luckily, it is not as complicated as the 13-syllable name would have you believe.

In a nutshell, SCIM simplifies user management. If SCIM is enabled, users can be added or deleted automatically. It’s as easy as that.

On the one hand, SCIM makes life much easier for Admins. No more manually adding and deleting user accounts.

But it’s also important from a security perspective. With SCIM, user accounts are automatically deleted as soon as employees leave your organization, which means employees won’t have access to sensitive company information after they’ve left.

SCIM happens through SSO and is supported by OneLogin and Microsoft Azure. If your identity provider supports it, I highly recommend implementing SCIM—both for the added convenience and peace of mind.

3. In lieu of SSO, use 2-factor authentication

If your organization doesn’t use SSO, I would recommend you set up 2-factor authentication as an additional layer of security.

If you’ve ever had a code sent to your email or phone, that’s 2-factor authentication. After a user enters their username and password, 2-factor authentication prompts users to enter a valid key or code.

2-factor authentication prevents an unauthorized person from accessing data. Even if a cyber attacker learns the login credentials, they will not be able to access the code for 2-factor authentication.

RFPIO supports 2-factor authentication through Google Authenticator and Duo Mobile.

4. Control access with User Roles

With User Roles (default) and Custom Roles (customized), you can define what users can see and do, and ensure users only have access to the data that’s relevant to them. This is key for security. When you reduce the number of people with access to sensitive data, you minimize the risk of leaks.

RFPIO’s out-of-the-box user roles include Super Admin, Admin, Manager, Team Member, and Project Requester. With Custom Roles (available as an add-on, or included with enterprise package), you can create your own roles that make sense for your organization For example, Content Owner, Reseller Partner, or Project Contributor, but really it can be whatever you want. The world of custom roles is your oyster.

Read our Help Center article to learn more about specific permission levels for the out-of-the-box user roles (RFPIO customers only).

5. Control visibility with collections

Collections is another, more granular way to control access to sensitive data.

While User Roles controls access to projects and organization settings, Collections controls access to content.

When you assign a piece of content to a collection, you can restrict visibility to that collection, either by a user group level (e.g. the sales team) or on an individual level. You can get as granular as you’d like.

For example, you may choose to have a “security” collection and restrict visibility to just the InfoSec team. Or maybe you want a “financials” collection, and want to restrict access to just the finance team and upper management. Here’s a blog with more detail on using collections to organize your content (or scroll to the bottom to watch the webinar).

6. Get really granular with permissions

If you want to get really in the weeds with visibility, you can set privacy settings at the individual object level (e.g. a Q&A pair). Rather than assigning it to a collection, you can set privacy settings to control who can view or edit a specific piece of content.
If there’s a Q&A pair you really only want upper management to have access to, you can do that.

You can also adjust view and edit permissions. For example, maybe there’s a question about a product feature that you really only want the product team to be able to edit, but still want to give your marketing team access to view.

7. Keep up with your audits

With RFPIO, all activities are tracked and logged at different levels (e.g. project level, content level).

Every so often, I’d recommend pulling the Activity Report, which monitors all user activity within the application—including permission changes, user creation, and user deactivation.

For example, if you notice an individual user’s permissions have been changed to have broader access to data that may not be relevant to their role. In response, you can reach out to the person who made the change for more information—and, if necessary, reverse their permission levels to a level more appropriate to their role.

You can also pull the User Login Activity Report. This log includes information about:

  • Who accessed the account,
  • When it was accessed,
  • Where it was accessed (e.g. IP address), and
  • How they logged in (e.g. SSO, username + password, etc.)

Using the User Login Activity Report, Admins can see if the user logged in at odd hours, like on the weekend or very late at night. This could be an indication of unauthorized access that could lead to a data breach.

8. Set up “session timeout”

Avoid the risk of internal attacks by setting up session timeouts that automatically log you out of the application. This is most relevant for organizations working in an office setting.

Here’s the scenario: The VP of Sales leaves their desk for a meeting. Scooby-Doo walks over to the VP of Sales’ desk and downloads a bunch of sensitive financial information from RFPIO, and uses it to wreak havoc. Classic Scooby move.

To prevent this kind of situation from happening, you should set up “session timeout”. The default timeout is 20 minutes, but you can adjust according to your needs.

9. Bring Your Own Key (BYOK)

Set up an extra layer of security with BYOK. RFPIO already encrypts data with our own mechanism, but if you want that added boost… you should consider BYOK.

Basically, BYOK gives you the ability to provide your own encryption key to protect your data—on top of the encryption that RFPIO already uses. This is an added measure for fighting unauthorized access to data.

If you’re an RFPIO customer, learn more about BYOK in the Help Center.

10. Securely share information via Linked Companies

Share company information with partners (e.g. resellers) in such a way that they can only view and use it—but don’t have edit access. This essentially transforms your RFPIO Content Library into an internal knowledge base that your reseller partners can use to respond to RFPs or answer any other questions that may come up during the sales cycle.

You can set this up using Partner Companies. Learn more about how to set up and use Linked Companies in the Help Center (RFPIO customers only).

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

If you’re new to the proposal or bid process, then you’ll need the request for proposal (RFP) basics. Even though, like all business processes, the request for proposal process has changed over the years, many of the basics have held true.

This article will brief you on what you need to know about requests for proposals so you’ll be ready to take on the response process with aplomb.

What does RFP stand for?

RFP stands for request for proposal. As a remnant of government contracting processes, it’s no wonder “RFP” is more popular as an acronym. After all, in byzantine bureaucratic processes, responding to an RFP from the DoD is the only way to share your KSP with a VIP who prefers to keep their ID on the QT until they determine ROI. And this all started before texting and social media! LOL!

Why do RFPs exist?

Organizations and agencies issue RFPs as part of their vendor selection process. It’s an attempt to create parameters that enable apples-to-apples comparisons of solutions to a particular problem.

Outside of the United States, RFPs are also known as tenders. Instead of “issuing an RFP,” organizations “run a tender.” Instead of “responding” to an RFP, vendors “bid” on a tender.

Other RFP-related terms

To learn more about common RFP-related terms, you have 3 options. One, check out the quick definitions below (it’ll take less than a minute). Two, read my new screenplay for the short film, “Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process,” later in this article (it’ll take you 3-5 minutes). Three, do both! Note: If you are an artist who can help me storyboard the movie, let’s talk (think low-budget, though).

Proposal
The proposal is your response to an RFP. If an organization or agency asks, “How can I solve X?” in an RFP, then your proposal is the answer: “I propose this solution to X.” Like Dr. Barbay’s single question for Thornton Melon’s academic evaluation that ended up having 27 parts, your RFP proposal can be hundreds, if not thousands of pages long.

RFP Executive Summary
The RFP executive summary sets the tone of the proposal. It’s usually written first, by the salesperson in charge of the relationship. It will summarize the highlights of your proposal. There are occasions when it will be the only part of your proposal that some of the issuing stakeholders will review.

RFI: Request for Information
RFIs, or requests for information, are more casual than a request for quote and more generic than an RFP, RFIs are either a fishing expedition or a clarification exercise.

RFQ: Request for Quote
When someone issues an RFQ, or request for quote, they want you to tell them how much your product or service will cost. Lowest price definitely does not always win. This is an opportunity to illustrate everything included in your offering as well as prospective ROI.

DDQ: Due Diligence Questionnaire
DDQs, or due diligence questionnaires—not to be confused with a security questionnaire (see below)—are all about compliance. You might see one as part of the RFP process, but it’s also likely you’ll be filling these out throughout your partnership with the issuer. With increasing scrutiny on data security and privacy, you may be filling them out more often, too.

Security Questionnaire
This will be one or more standardized questionnaires designed to assess risk of taking you on as a vendor. Popular questionnaires include SIG, SIG-Lite, VSAQ, CAIQ, and more.

When to use an RFP

Say you’re an enterprise or government agency. Through research and experience, you’ve identified five possible vendors that may be able to help solve a particular problem. Now you can issue an RFP to gather everything you need to know about the solution, its cost, and its impact on your operations after selecting a vendor. The level of complexity, number of questions, and deadline will vary greatly depending on your industry and the sophistication of the solution.

When to respond to an RFP

There are several factors to consider when determining whether or not to respond to an RFP. We recommend that your standard RFP intake process include a go/no-go step. Only respond to RFPs that you can win:

  • Is the RFP the right fit for your organization and solution?
  • Do you have a comprehensive solution that addresses all of the challenges presented in the request?
  • Does your pricing match the budget?
  • Do you have an existing or prior relationship with the issuing organization?
  • Do you have any insight into why the RFP has been issued?
  • Can you meet the submission deadline?

When to use RFP software

If you’re responding to a couple of RFPs, a few security questionnaires, and spend most of your time sending out direct responses to RFQs, then RFP software may not be the best fit.

RFP software falls into a new category of software known as response management. Response management software’s primary value is efficiency. How you repurpose time saved will determine much of your success. Some organizations seek to respond to more RFPs, others seek to improve response quality. Most want both.

If you think RFP software and its automation capabilities would help, then it’s important to consider your entire response universe when selecting a vendor. For example, do you only want help responding to RFPs? Or do you want to automate responses to security questionnaires and DDQs, too?

What about proactive proposals? Do your sales, presales, and support teams want a better way to respond to prospects and customers?

RFPs are sales vehicles, and how your organization responds is a sales support function. The response management solution you choose will be determined by how much sales support you want to offer.

Sometimes you wonder if life is a movie…

Me, too! So if you had to break down RFP basics into a scene in your life’s movie it might look like…

“Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process”

By Sue Donim

[LOCATION: HOME OFFICE OF “KEYES,” THE SALES MANAGER/PROPOSAL MANAGER/MARKETING MANAGER HERO. KEYES LOGS ONTO A VIDEO CONFERENCE WITH “BOSS.”]

KEYES: Hi, Boss. Nice virtual background. That’s the most artistic rendering of taxidermy I’ve seen in some time.

BOSS: Cut to the chase, Keyes. I’ve grown weary of these online meetings. Unless you have a solution to our revenue and inefficiency challenges, I’d rather you send me an email.

KEYES: You’re in luck, sir. It just so happens that’s why I requested this meeting.

BOSS: That’s what I like about you, Keyes. Always presenting answers instead of complaining about problems. Proceed.

KEYES: We can increase revenue by streamlining our RFP process.

BOSS: Brilliant! I like it…no, I love it! Let’s start immediately. Now…

What is an RFP again?

KEYES: An RFP is a Request for Proposal…when a company needs services and products like ours, they issue an RFP to identify the optimal vendor.

BOSS: Sounds like a no-brainer. Why haven’t we been doing this the whole time?

KEYES: We have responded to RFPs in the past, but it’s not exactly a turnkey process…yet. RFPs can be thousands of pages about pricing, functionality, technology, security, company basics, competitive differentiators, and more. Responding puts a strain on our subject matter experts, sales teams, and anyone else who needs to carve out extra time to help with the process.

BOSS: That doesn’t sound efficient at all.

KEYES: Well, then you have to take into consideration RFIs and RFQs, too.

BOSS: Enough with the acronyms, Keyes.

What’s an RFI? What’s an RFQ?

KEYES: Sorry, Boss. Request for Information and Request for Quote. RFIs tend to appear early in the vendor-selection process. Companies issue them to find out if any vendors can help them solve a particular problem. They’re more generic and open-ended and would likely be used to craft a more targeted RFP. RFQs usually show up later in the vendor selection process, usually after we’ve submitted an RFP. This is when the company wants to know specifics on how much our solution will cost.

BOSS: RFPs, RFIs, RFQs… anything else I should know about? Wait, what’s that?!

How to write executive summary
KEYES: Good eye, Boss. That’s a cheat sheet on writing an executive summary. The executive summary is high-level content that covers the issuer’s challenges and demonstrates how our products and services will help.

BOSS: Sounds like a cover letter.

KEYES: That’s a common misconception, Boss. The executive summary is different from the cover letter. In an executive summary, we provide an executive-level summary of how our solution fixes their problem. In a cover letter, we talk about how great we are.

BOSS: I’m better at that than most.

KEYES: Of course you are.

BOSS: And what do our RFP-winning executive summaries look like?

KEYES: I’ll let you know when we win one.

BOSS: I was afraid you were going to say that.

KEYES: Don’t get discouraged, Boss. I have a plan to turn it around. The right RFP automation software will help us write RFP-winning executive summaries. Just like it will help with DDQs and security questionnaires.

BOSS: What did I just say about acronyms?

What’s a DDQ?

KEYES: Sorry. Last one. The DDQ is the Due Diligence Questionnaire. It’s usually one of the last stages of the response process. In fact, it may come after we’ve already been selected, when the company is doing their final due diligence. It typically involves a few hyper-specific points as part of their standard vendor onboarding protocol.

BOSS: And how is that different from a security questionnaire? In fact….

What even is a security questionnaire?

KEYES: Great question, Boss. Privacy is a hot button, and any company we work with wants to make sure we meet their privacy standards. Security questionnaires generally deal with privacy issues such as compliance, infrastructure security, and data protection. Depending on the company, this questionnaire can be a few hundred or a few thousand questions.

BOSS: Yowza. How long does it take to complete that?

KEYES: Weeks, if we don’t have a response process in place.

BOSS: Excellent. Let’s get it implemented. I’m putting you in charge of it, Keyes.

KEYES: I think that’s a good call, Boss. We’ll start with the 8-step RFP response process.

[CUT TO GRAPHIC OF 8-STEP RFP RESPONSE PROCESS]

RFP process and steps

BOSS: Looks like I put the right person in charge. You have all the answers, Keyes.

KEYES: Speaking of answers, that reminds of something else that’s essential to a smooth-running RFP process machine.

BOSS: Yes, yes, that’s why I brought it up. What’s on your mind?

KEYES: The Content Library, Boss. It’s the secret to more efficient RFP content management. It’s what makes massive questionnaires answerable in a few clicks. It’s where content is marketing-approved and always ready to share. And if it’s intelligent—as it should be—it’s able to make recommendations along the way so that we can easily customize every RFP response. Plus, once a subject matter expert answers a question it stays in the library forever. From then on, they can take a reviewer role, saving them time and keeping them focused on their primary job duties.

BOSS: That’s it! You’re the winner, Keyes! Best video conference of the day.

KEYES: Thank you, Boss.

BOSS: No, thank YOU! Now, how do we get started. Will you—dare I ask—issue an RFP? Ha!

KEYES: Good one, sir, but no. I already have someone in mind.

[FADE OUT OF VIDEO CONFERENCE CALL AUDIO. ZOOM OUT TO SEE THE BACK OF KEYES. CUT TO BLACK. ROLL CREDITS]

[END]

How is your RFP process performing? Schedule a demo to see how RFPIO can help transform your RFP period piece into an action-packed RFP-process blockbuster.

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