Writing executive summaries

When we join a proposal team part way through the response window, we always make the same request: “Let’s see your executive summary.”

Typically, the answer is: “We haven’t written it yet. We do that once the proposal’s finished.”

That’s poor practice for two reasons:

  1. Drafting an executive summary is the best test to confirm you have a coherent strategy that covers all sections and addresses all the prospect’s key issues before kickoff.
  2. Narratives will be stronger and more aligned if content developers are confident they understand strategy—and a draft executive summary is the clearest expression of strategy.

Draft the executive summary before kickoff

We’ve posted extensively on the importance of developing proposal strategy before kicking off content development with proposal writers.

A fully developed strategy includes value propositions for each proposal section and detailed plans for positioning your solution’s key strengths and defending any weaknesses, compared with your competition.

Draft the executive summary as part of strategy making. Aim to get it 60 or 70% complete, close enough that it can guide content developers in drafting their sections.

Executive strategy structure

Organize the executive summary into four components:

  • An intro that links the prospect organization’s vision or strategic purpose to the planned purchase and aligns your response to that purpose
  • A series of short paragraphs that align with the major RFP sections and tie your key differentiators and offer for each requirement to one or more of the prospect’s strategic issues and hot button issues
  • Three- or four-paragraph sections expanding on each of the bullet points, including your value propositions, positioning statements, and proof points. Include visualizations for your key differentiators
  • A closing section summing up your strongest selling points

This draft doesn’t have to be polished, but it should include all the key sales arguments for the main response sections. It’s hard to become this focused early in the response window, but the effort will pay huge dividends in improving your team’s understanding of strategy and messaging.

Benefits of drafting the executive summary early

Because content developers will naturally be more productive and sure-footed, the Red Team review can focus on improving already solid content, instead of rewriting. The entire team will have more time and energy to devote to improving visualization and polish.

Bottom line: Your proposals will be more coherent, more strategic and stronger—and stand a better chance of winning.

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