RFPs and security questionnaires make the world of sales and procurement go round. They’re both vital tools to help buyers assess potential relationships with vendors and ensure proper criteria are met before entering into any binding contracts. And while they serve an important role in the sales process, the burden they put on buyers and vendors alike has led to the creation of tools to streamline the process for all involved.
Can you use a one-size-fits-all solution? How do you select the right tool for you? Let’s take a look at what they are, what their purpose is, and which one will help you achieve success in your sales cycle.
What is the Difference Between an RFP and a Security Questionnaire?
The Request for Proposal (RFP) process provides a structured and effective way to gather information, evaluate options, and make informed decisions about which vendor to choose. The RFP business document goes into detail about what product or service the buyer wants to purchase. Once this is sent out, vendors can review it and submit their bids.
Security questionnaires (SQs) are technical questions created by IT teams, and are typically used to determine a vendor’s security and compliance posture. If a company is interested in hiring a vendor, the buyer will ask them to fill out a security questionnaire. The buyer wants to make sure that the vendor meets their security requirements before potentially advancing to the next stage in the sales process with said vendor.
What Kind of Tool Can Be Used to Answer an RFP or Security Questionnaire?
RFP tools typically include a knowledge base or library where teams store information about their business, and the tool will automatically insert content into an RFP. Examples of these tools can be found here.
Security questionnaire automation tools may operate similarly, but are designed to meet the specific needs of security programs, which include frameworks, charters, policies, processes, and a way to measure each of these. The best tools are connected directly to your security program, and use artificial intelligence to pre-populate responses, avoiding the need to maintain a knowledge base or hunt for answers. An example of this tool would be TrustCloud’s TrustShare.
How do you know what tool is right for you? Here are some important criteria to consider:
RFPs and security questionnaires may both process sensitive information; RFPs may include pricing and proprietary product information, while security questionnaires may include details about an organization’s policies, practices, and vulnerabilities.
Given the sensitivity of this information, it’s critical to ensure there are secure access and sharing capabilities. Security questionnaire automation tools are more likely to include safety features like secure sending options, embedded NDAs, and user tracking for who has viewed certain documents. Prioritize those features to maintain the security of sensitive information and documents.
The ultimate goal of a security questionnaire is to earn trust and win business from a potential customer. With that in mind, it’s very important to provide accurate responses to security questionnaires.
RFP and security questionnaire automation tools may pull information from multiple sources: a knowledge base, prior questionnaires or RFPs, AI-generated content, or directly from a company’s business or security systems.
The most accurate, up-to-date responses will come directly from a company’s own systems. Tools that require manual updates, like knowledge bases, may quickly become out of date and hard to maintain. Additionally, the accuracy of any AI-generated responses will depend on the quality of information used to train the model. When responding to security questionnaires, it’s important to use a model trained specifically on security-related topics.
RFP software is typically designed to work with standardized RFPs and may not be able to accommodate custom questionnaires. Security questionnaire automation tools are often more flexible and can be customized to work with a variety of questionnaires, including those that are specific to a particular industry or organization.
Given their role in the sales process, timely responses to security questionnaires are critical. A slow response may delay or jeopardize a deal. Here are factors that influence how quickly a security questionnaire automation or RFP tool may respond:
- Ease of team collaboration – Compliance is a team sport. An effective tool will allow users to easily assign tasks to colleagues for maximum efficiency.
- Robustness of AI capabilities – Not only can AI generate accurate responses, but it should do so more quickly than manual effort. A sophisticated AI model will dramatically speed up response time.
- Connection to your systems and compliance & security program – Similar to AI capabilities, a direct connection to your own systems minimizes the time required to collect and check information. An effective tool can pull this in automatically.
Receive Fewer Security Questionnaires
One way to minimize the time required to answer security questionnaires is to receive less of them. A couple ways to do that are:
- Achieve compliance certifications or attestations. For example, proof that you have passed a SOC 2 Type 2 audit may be sufficient to pass a security review, no questionnaires needed.
- Share your security program via a trust portal on your website. By inviting customers into a secure hub with details about your security program, they may find all of the information they need without sending a questionnaire.
Some security questionnaire automation tools include security portal creation and maintenance, which can be a huge time saver for your team.
Using RFP Software to Answer Security Questionnaires
Because RFP solutions have been designed to solve for many different problems (e.g. RFPs, RFIs, DDQs, SQs, etc.), they tend to lack deep features in any given area, whereas security questionnaire automation tools meet the specific needs required to process these questionnaires.
If you’re like most companies answering security questionnaires, then you will need a solution designed to safely, accurately, quickly respond to customer inquiries, so you can pass security reviews and win more business. By carefully evaluating your needs and considering the pros and cons of different alternatives, your organization can make an informed decision about which approach is best for you.