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Writing executive summaries

 March 28, 2017
by Paul Heron

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

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

That’s not good practice for two reasons:

  1. Drafting an executive summary is the best way to confirm you have a coherent strategy that covers all sections and addresses all the prospect’s key issues.
  2. Content developers will be more confident and aligned if they understand your strategy at kickoff—and an executive summary expresses strategy much better than bullet points.

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 75 or 80% 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 be this focused early in the response window—but the effort will pay huge dividends in aligning your team on strategy and messaging.

Benefits of drafting the executive summary early

Because content developers will naturally be more productive and sure-footed, second drafts can focus on improving already sound content, instead of rewriting to align with strategy and messaging. The entire team will have more time and energy to devote to improving visualization and polish.

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



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Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





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