Writing executive summary content for your proposal is one of the most critical writing exercise in the whole proposal writing process.
This module will take you step by step through write executive summary sections that really sell what you’re proposing.
Writing Executive Summary Sections: First or Last?
You’ll frequently read advice suggesting you write your executive summary first and then use it it as a sort of outline for your proposal – my strong advice is precisely the opposite.
The danger with writing executive summary sections too early in the process is that you will almost certainly need to rewrite them later when you review your finished proposal. You’ll definitely find it is missing points which you will by then have realized are absolutely critical to the success of your proposal.
Instead, I strongly advise that you plan on writing executive summary content only after the rest of your proposal has been written and polished, and you are absolutely clear on the messages that you wish to communicate to your client with the proposal.
To get your proposal to that stage check out modules 3-9 in my FREE Business Proposal Writing course.
Why Bother Writing Executive Summary Sections at all?
The Executive Summary serves two main purposes, namely:
- To provide an overview for senior management readers
- To provide a summary and proposal ‘road-map’ orienting all readers.
An Overview for Senior Management Readers
Not everyone in the client organisation who will have an input into the proposal assessment process will have the time to read your proposal in great detail.
Many of the more senior members of the proposal assessment team will want only the briefest synopsis of the main points made in each business proposal they read, leaving verification of detail to other members of the assessment team.
On reading your Executive Summary it should be possible to get an overview of all of the reasons why your proposal deserves to win the target business.
If there are questions, they should be merely on matters of detail and proof, which can be addressed by delving deeper into the individual sections of your proposal, by reading the detail in the various sections or in the Appendices section, or by discussing more detailed points with other members of the assessment team.
A Summary for All Readers
Despite the name, your purpose in writing executive summary sections is not just to target senior executives on your client assessment team.
The Executive Summary should also serve as a useful introduction for all readers of your proposal. It orients your readers, preparing them to read your proposal, pointing out to them what points to look out for in later sections, and summarizing very clearly all of the main reasons why you deserve to win the client’s business.
To meet these objectives you should base your executive summaries on a two-part model which includes:
- An introduction
- A paragraph or two on each of the proposal’s sections.
Writing Executive Summary Sections: The Introduction
The Executive Summary is the first section of your proposal that you present to your reader, and the introduction to that section contains the first words of your proposal that the reader will read.
The opening lines must therefore make a very strong impression, setting the tone for the rest of the proposal. They should summarize the whole proposal down into a few well-chosen sentences or paragraphs that deliver the whole message from the proposal.
In essence, writing executive summary content what you want to say is:
“We understand your requirements; we have worked with you to prepare the best possible solution to those requirements; and we have the necessary skills, experience and expertise to implement that solution on time and within budget. This proposal tells you how we will do this”.
The introduction should be kept as short as possible, with the following paragraphs picking up the main points of the introduction in a little more detail.
Notice below that, in keeping with the advice in other modules, I am giving my Executive Summary a title that has a more narrative quality, and one reflective of the client’s interests and language – “Raising ClientCo’s Sales by XX%” (rather than simply calling it ‘Executive Summary’).
Let’s look at the introduction for the executive summary written for the proposal meeting the requirements of the case study used throughout this site:
“Raising ClientCo’s Sales by XX%
“ClientCo’s sales team has 45 sales professionals – all hired for a specific combination of education, skills and experience that they share in common, and which should assure that all are highly successful in their positions.
However, sales performance across this team varies widely – from the highest performers who deliver a performance against quota of as much as 139% (the top ten range from 111% to 139% with an average performance of 125%), to the lower performers who deliver as little as 82% against quota (the bottom seven range from 82% to 99% with an average performance of just 92%). It is this gap of 57% between the highest and lowest performers that rightly concerns ClientCo.
ClientCo has the potential to increase their sales output by a factor of several hundred percent – if they can determine what it is that makes their top performers so much more productive than their average and bottom performers, and if they can use that information to raise the performance of every member of their sales team to the level of their top performers.
Such an increase in sales would come with no increase in numbers of sales personnel, so all such revenue increases would directly impact the bottom line.”
A Few Paragraphs for Each Main Proposal Section
Your overall proposal should always be based upon the “Requirements-Solution-Benefits-Costs-Proof” model.
If you adopt this model then all you need do when writing executive summary content is summarize the main sections of the proposal down into a few tight paragraphs that cover the main points presented in each of those key sections.
Writing Executive Summary Sections: How Long?
Devote a few paragraphs to presenting the main points in each of these sections in as brief a format as possible.
Use only as many words as you need to summarize the main points. The secret in writing executive summary content that persuades is brevity – be careful not to repeat too large a percentage of the content of these sections.
Your objective should be to make your Executive Summary quick to read.
When writing executive summary sections keep them as short as you can, without compromising their purpose. You should be confident that your executive summary could largely sell your solution all on its own, if the rest of your proposal were to be lost.
In Figure 1 below have a look at the relationship you should seek to establish between the executive summary and the other elements in your proposal – your Executive Summary really is a retelling of the story outlined in your proposal – but in a highly distilled form.
Note too in the figure above that when you have written a compelling executive summary you have also gone a long way towards writing a great proposal cover letter – which is, in turn, really just a highly distilled version of your Executive Summary.
It is this clear connectivity between your proposal, it’s executive summary, and your proposal cover letter that reinforces your key selling points miltiple times and so effectively communicates your message to your readers.
Let’s look first at summarizing the ‘Requirements’ section.
Writing Executive Summary Content: Summarizing the Requirements
Base your Executive Summary’s synopsis of the requirements directly on the Outline Requirements Statement discussed earlier in the module on analyzing your client’s requirement.
All you need do is expand each set of related points from your Outline Requirements Statement into as few sentences as are necessary to cover all of these major points in your synopsis.
The total requirement can almost always be summarized in less than a page. If you wanted to shorten this synopsis even further, you could simply stress the most important aspects of the requirements in your synopsis, referring readers who want more detail to the more detailed discussion in the “Requirements” section itself.
Here’s a very much synopsized version of the requirements section that I wrote up earlier on the basis of the requirement analysis presneted in the module on analyzing the requirement.
Although I have shortened it considerably it nonetheless manages to stress very strongly those requirements that we can address particularly well – whilst also simultaneously encouraging client ‘ownership’ of the entire proposal and its content:
“In many ways Profiles cannot claim credit for the solution proposed here as much of it arose directly from the input of ClientCo’ own acquisition team and their clear understanding of the organisation’s challenges and requirements.
Our complete understanding of ClientCo’s requirements, and the subsequent solution, were developed through extremely close cooperation with ClientCo’s acquisition team of Joe Blayne, Michelle Franks and Martin O’Sullivan.
Over a series of meetings, discussions and a comprehensive ‘Pre-Proposal Review’, the ClientCo and Profiles Interna-tional teams submitted the proposed solution to a ruthless examination to ensure that it met or exceeded all of ClientCo’s requirements – before it was committed to this formal document.
The comprehensive understanding of those requirements, which developed from this close working relationship, is detailed in Section 2 of this proposal, ‘Deiric: title.
ClientCo were clear in specifying some critical attributes they would require in any successful solution. All of these as-pects of the requirement are addressed in detail in Section 2, but two deserve to be specifically highlighted here.
ClientCo’s challenge is one that is faced by the sales management of the organisation on a day-to-day basis, and that challenge will only be met and addressed effectively by that same team working on it on a day-to-day basis.
The acquisition team were very clear that any solution proposed must be entirely usable by all members of the sales management team – there should be no requirement for any sort of specialised certification or training in order to make use of the solution.
A range of reports are required to meet various aspects of the challenge (hiring, development, management, succession and career planning etc) and these reports must be presented in clear, everyday sales language – and require no interpretative input from psychologists or specially trained individuals.
Furthermore, as the initiative to identify and acquire a solution to this challenge is not one that formed part of the ClientCo’s IT Department planning at the outset of this year, no IT resources have been allocated to support the initiative.
The successful solution must be entirely web-based (so that it requires no specialised hardware or software requiring IT support) and it must require no programming or ongoing support whatever.”
If you do your job right in summarizing this section you will make all of the major points from your Requirements section quite briefly and may find yourself wondering ‘why did my requirements section need to be so long in the first place?!”. It may suggest it’d be worth your while revisiting and editing the original for greater clarity and brevity.
Summarizing the Remaining Sections
When writing executive summary sections you should take the same approach in summarizing each of the other sections of your proposal – until you have created a heavily condensed version of your solution and benefits sections too.
I will shortly make ‘Winning Business Proposals‘ available as an eBook and you’ll then be able to see how each of the case study’s proposal sections were effectively summarized – writing executive summary content that really sold this deal. If you want notice when this ebook becomes available just send me your contact detaisl using the form at the foot of this page.
Costs in the Executive Summary – Advisable?
In writing executive summary sections there is a perennial debate amongst proposal writers as to whether one should include a summary of costs .
The answer is sometimes – and you must judge when it’s appropriate. If your costs are a particular strength, one which you feel will position you strongly against your competitors, then you absolutely must include a summary of this always contentious section.
If however you feel that your costs will put you at a particular disadvantage then you should devote your Executive Summary to those areas where your solution is going to come across as clearly superior to any competitor – and avoid a costs discussion altogether until later in the ‘Costs’ section of the proposal, after your readers have absorbed all of the positives aspects of your offering.
My advice: if in doubt leave costs out of the Executive Summary.
In the case study example we’re using to illustrate these modules Profiles International have a very distinct cost advantage over their competitors – so there is a brief costs discussion.
This puts costs right to the forefront of the minds of readers – and may encourage them to immediately look for similar information upfront when evaluating competitive bids. Here’s how it sounds:
“Under ‘Costs’ (Section 5) you will see that the proposed Profiles solution has no significant upfront cost, and is provided to ClientCo on a ‘pay as you use’ basis – making it entirely compatible with ClientCo’s current cost-limitation programme.
The entire cost of the implementation is significantly below even the lowest levels that the ClientCo team had anticipated was possible.
The total initial implementation costs just $XXXX.
Perhaps as importantly, expansion of the system either nation- or world-wide will cost just $XX for every new branch added to the system, with Profiles International providing all of the proposed products in 50+ languages and offering direct support in 106 countries.”
Writing Executive Summary Sections that Persuade: Use the Winning Structure to Assure Success
Writing executive summary content that sells is all about having a compelling structure in your core proposal – one that allows you to easily distil
the main points of your proposal in a quick readable form.
Use the “Requirements-Solution-Benefits-Costs-Proof” model and you really cannot go wrong.