The executive summary of your bid, tender or proposal is the most important part of the entire document.
However well-written the rest of your bid or sales proposal is, many people will only have the time (or motivation) to read the executive summary. And more than this, these readers will often be key decision-makers.
This could be a problem, as often this crucial section ends up being something of an afterthought: a few paragraphs or pages that get dashed off when the author is already exhausted from writing the ‘real’ proposal. And doing that could be a costly mistake.
So how do you summarise a carefully argued document – which can sometimes run to dozens of pages – into a one or two page executive summary?
The secret is to keep one idea in mind:
Your executive summary is a journey.
Your executive summary is like a miniature version of your entire bid or proposal.
Like your bid or proposal, it’s a way of guiding your client from where they are now to where they need to be – and making it clear why they need your help in getting there.
This article will walk you through each stage of this journey, so that by the end you’ll know how to write executive summaries that give your bid the best possible chance of winning.
First things first: you need to start your summary somewhere safe and non-controversial.
Begin with where your prospect is now, giving a summary of their present situation. Don’t be contentious – it’s important to begin from a place of consensus between you and your prospect.
Why things must change
After outlining your client’s position, you need to make it clear you understand why things need to change. Ask yourself: ‘Why did your client put this out to bid or tender in the first place?’
An organisation issues an ITT or RFP because they have a particular set of problems to address or important needs to be met. Now is your chance to convincingly show you really understand them and can sum them up clearly.
Research is key to really nailing this part of the summary. Don’t skip it. There’s no way to effectively understand how your client sees their problems without going out and learning more about them.
Learn everything you can about the prospect’s problems as they understand them. You want to be writing about the problem in their terms, using their language, so you can show you understand the problem exactly as they do.
If you or one of your colleagues knows the client (such as someone else in sales or account management), talk to them to learn more. If you have any emails where the client has talked about their problems and challenges, read them. And if you have an opportunity to talk to the client yourself, take it.
What your proposed solution is
Next comes your proposal. This will outline how your solution can solve the problems your prospect faces.
The most important ideas to include here are win themes – the areas that you’ve identified as being the most important things to communicate to your client. Should you emphasise that you are the most experienced provider? The cheapest? The most secure? Do you offer an approach to the solution that will particularly resonate with your client? Use what you think they regard as most important to guide you on this: don’t assume or just stress what you’re proud of.
When you’re highlighting win themes, make sure to back them up with something concrete. To take our example proposal (below), we don’t just say ‘we take a systematic approach’. Instead, we talk about how we take a systematic approach, giving specific information about our writing analysis.
It’s only after you’ve shown a clear understanding of your prospect’s situation that you should offer some information about your company.
You want to make it clear that you’re a capable organisation who can handle the problem (and that your client isn’t going to regret choosing you!).
Talking about your own company earlier than this point sends the message that you’d sooner talk about yourself than explain your solution to your prospect. Indeed, it’s a very common mistake to talk too much about your own company and not much about your client. To avoid it, try this rule of thumb: if you’ve mentioned your own company more than you’ve mentioned your client, you need to go back and check if you’re really making your bid or proposal about your client’s needs (and not about how great your organisation is).
What it looks like in practice
You can download an example of this structure in practice here.
But how can you condense dozens of pages into one or two?
First, you’ll need to ensure your written style is clear and concise. Have a look at our articles on keeping it short and simple and using the active voice for more.
You can also cut down on space by using bullet points, or if you have a particularly compelling graphic, you can use that too.
Getting it right
The executive summary is the part of your bid or proposal that most readers will read – and it could be the only part that key decision-makers look at.
It can take time to distil everything down into a few pages. But get it right and you’ll take your reader on a simple, persuasive journey through your arguments – a journey which has the best possible chance of ending in your bid getting the thumbs up.