For many, Proposal Executive Summaries form the single most important part of the document. It’s the section that brings your solution to life – often the only section of the document Leadership will read – leaving others to determine whether the rest of the document is compliant or not; and whether it gets through to the next stage.
And yet… it’s the section that is the most boiler-plated, rehashed and disrespected.
Now, don’t get caught by the word ‘Summary’. It isn’t a summary of your submission. Its role is to present your value proposition – to do nothing short of defining those differentiators which press their hot buttons. Treat this section with the utmost respect. It is your overview, your management case. It needs to be compelling, dominant, persuasive, benefits-driven, visionary. It’s the section that sells you.
And yet… a room of 350 proposal specialists burst into laughter when asked to share ‘the worst introductory exec summary openings of all time’ they’d come across. Maybe you’ve encountered some of the examples they gave, below (or derivations) – I know I have, all too often:
- Thank you for the opportunity to …
- We are pleased to submit …
- We are a premier/preeminent/market leading firm in …
- Regarding your request for proposal (RFP), [your company] is thrilled about the opportunity to provide you [type of service requested]. Having worked with [brief list of past clients], we believe a partnership with [company you’re writing to] would have a tremendous impact on your customer satisfaction and bottom line.
So we see what doesn’t work. But what does?
As I’ve said, the primary role of an executive summary is to sell (or to use another word, persuade). Yet beware of using the word ‘sales’ – the US Defence will often rip out the executive summary because they think it’s a sales document full of corporate puffery or marketing guff. This section needs to have looked at it from their perspective and provide:
- The benefits of your solution for them
- Your approach
- The ‘customer value’ solution
- Your differentiators (and please ensure they are substantiated and summarised)
A good proposal won’t necessarily win you the work, but a ‘bad one’ can very quickly kick you out of the race. Something to remember is that when they are evaluating the proposals received, their main goal is to weed out the ones that aren’t compliant. They are looking to see whether:
- You listened
- You read the questions in the RFP
- You understand what they need – truly need
- You will give them what they need
- They can trust your solution
Ergo, boilerplate cut and paste summaries simply won’t cut the grade.
Some Cardinal Don’ts for putting together your executive summary
- Don’t have it be generic and filled with boilerplate text
- Don’t refer to your business up front – it’s not about you . Address their business issues
- Don’t reuse/rehash text from previous proposals
Make sure you:
- Begin by defining the most important problem for the buyer, and then focus on the commercial benefits of solving this problem for them
- Incorporate your value propositions and differentiators – and make sure they are useful and specific to this project
- Stay away from vague generalities
- Use too much jargon or sales and marketing guff
As Albert Einstein says..
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
It’s the same with executive summaries. I will spend the majority of the time focused on developing the solution for them, framed to their issues, which defines our differentiators. Only then do I start writing. There is nothing more disrespectful than receiving a document that isn’t even written for the reader …