Executive Summaries: The Least Understood Part of Proposals


Posted By Steve Snow | Aug 28, 2014


Perhaps it’s the name that confuses us—Executive Summary. We hone in on the word summary, when the real focus should be on the word executive. Personally, I prefer the term Executive Overview.

Executive summaries are written for the benefit of—executives; a customer’s high-level decision makers. Like anything we write, we need to construct our message for the intended audience; hence, we need to understand a little bit about these decision makers before we run off and try to summarize all the details of our sales proposals.

Executive summaries - the least understood part of proposals

Four Important Points About Executive Buyers

  1. They want to know that you understand their business, their concerns and their goals
  2. They want a high-level picture of how you can help them improve their business
  3. They don’t want—and frequently don’t understand—the technical details
  4. They want it concise—typically no more than two to three pages

With this in mind, it’s important to focus the scope of your executive summaries on the interests of executive buyers. Below are suggestions to create a compelling executive summary. Also, consider that executive buyers often do not read the rest of your proposal; including the cover letter. This is your best chance—and oftentimes your only chance—to capture the attention of your customer’s business leaders.

Anatomy of an Effective Executive Summary

Begin the executive overview with a high-level description of your understanding of, and experience with, the customer’s industry or marketplace. Demonstrate that you are aware of, and empathize with, their general business environment. List 2-3 of the customer’s specific challenges that you know they are experiencing. Present each “pain point” as a separate item, with a descriptive subheading and a one-paragraph summary of the challenge. This is a great way to build rapport with the executive. It says you understand their concerns.

Similarly, describe the 2-3 highest-priority business objectives that the executive hopes to achieve. Again, describe each business outcome with a descriptive subheading and a one-paragraph summary of the goal. These goals are not merely the “flip side” of the customer’s challenges; they are the high-level business improvements that executives must deliver to their organization.

In several short paragraphs, provide a high-level description of your recommended solutions—and the business benefits of your offering.

Summarize the unique value proposition or return-on-investment that you will deliver to the customer. This is not just a pricing or fee summary, but rather a description of the positive business impact you offer.

Provide 3-4 of your key differentiators or business strengths that you know will be most relevant to the customer’s executives. Every customer is different, so be sure to tailor the list of differentiators to your understanding of what will be most important to the executives.

Creating the Perfect Executive Summary Using Qvidian

I worked with a Qvidian Proposal Automation customer recently on implementing an Executive Summary architecture and here’s how they approached it:

They determined what content needed to be drafted up front. Introductory paragraphs were written with topical marketplace analysis, specific to multiple client types. Concluding language, highlighting the firm’s strengths, was also created. Input was gathered from their primary users, the RFP Team. It was important to know firsthand what they felt was critical to the success of the initiative.

Each section was completed with selection-driven content – all product specific – to make it as easy as possible for the writer to quickly select the appropriate language and move on. Graphics were also embedded to add an eye-catching and informative variation to the document.

Creating Executive Summaries using Qvidian Proposal Automation

The remainder of the document would work to complement the discussion and call out why their organization is the best fit. It was also important to make sure their branding carried throughout the document, including the Executive Summary.

This approach to building an executive summary will positively influence the executive’s initial impression of your company and show that you have their best interests at heart. Make the executive overview primarily about the customer—not about you.