Why the Executive Summary is the Most Important Sales Document

If you want to improve your chances of winning, provide a well-written and persuasive executive summary. 

Busy proposal evaluators are looking for the most efficient way to get the job. You can help them along by providing clear reasons to select your firm over the competitors. The executive summary is the place to do this.

Make a Great First Impression

The executive summary is typically a standalone section at the front of a proposal. If the proposal instructions do not allow for an executive summary, use the cover letter or first-page introduction to a make your case.

Assuming you have done your homework, you already know who will be reading and evaluating your proposal. Tailor your executive summary to address the needs of the key decisionmakers. Provide the readers with compelling reasons to select your firm over the other bidders.

The executive summary is not a summary of the sections in your proposal. It is a sales document, customer-focused and specific to the opportunity. A great executive summary demonstrates that you:

  • Understand your customer’s vision and needs
  • Know their hot buttons
  • Offer a solution that satisfies those needs
  • Deliver better value than any competitor


Building a Persuasive Executive Summary

Structure your executive summary so it makes sense for the reader. It is about the customer and their needs. Resist the temptation to spend the first page talking all about your company and its history. There is always someone on the team that will insist this is necessary and will be beneficial to the client. Trust me, it won’t.

  1. Connect with the customer. Demonstrate that you understand the project, the rationale behind it, and the challenges it faces. Articulate your understanding of what is at risk for the customer and what success looks like. Include a brief overview of your solution and the value it will bring.
  2. Define Customer Needs. Describe the customer’s needs and prioritize them their perspective. If you are an incumbent, indicate your understanding of how needs have changed. Next, present your solution to each of the customer’s needs. State your solution’s benefits and include proof points to substantiate your claims.
  3. Provide Reasons to Choose You. Explain the value your customer gets with your solution but avoid too much technical detail. Focus on benefits and clear discriminators. Wherever possible, quantify the return on investment. This will help when comparing your price against the other bidders’.
  4. Include Graphics. Use graphics, tables, and charts to enhance the readers understanding of solutions and key points. They add emotional appeal and can create buy-in. For example, a features and benefits table can highlight the advantages of choosing your company based on the value you deliver.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Proposals are one area where everyone has an opinion and a preference. Here are some common executive summary mistakes that can weaken your chances of winning the proposal.

  • Talking about your company or solution first. Mention the customer and their needs first. Let them know that you understand their needs and their desired outcome. There are other places in the proposal where you will have an opportunity to talk about your firm.
  • Including the corporate history. Someone on the team will want to include the company’s 100-year corporate timeline, or corporate boilerplate, or anecdotes about landmark projects built years ago. Those proud corporate moments don’t belong in the executive summary. If you must include it, use the appendix. If you are compelled to talk about the 20 offices located around the world, discuss how they will benefit your customer.
  • Writing the executive summary after the proposal is completed. Draft the executive summary before the proposal kickoff meeting and get it approved. This will help keep the proposal team on point. It can be edited as you go along but be sure to allow sufficient time for production.
  • Too much information. An executive summary is not a summary of your proposal. It is a sales document designed to convince evaluators to select you. Think high-level and persuasive. Have the salesperson or one who knows the client best write the draft. Enlist the help of a professional writer or editor to help streamline your message.
  • Too much technical/industry jargon. The rule of thumb when writing for an audience is finding a universal language that all can speak fluently. In other words, keep it simple. Choose words that are meaningful and unambiguous.

Creating winning proposals is a huge investment of time and resources. For many firms, large proposals require taking employees away from their daily jobs to pitch in and help. It can be exhausting, and frustrating if you don’t win the job.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to improve your proposals and win more work, I can help.

#businessconsulting #betterproposals #winmorework

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