Why the Executive Summary is your real proposal

Plus 12 mistakes that show up in most Executive Summaries

Everything you want your customer to conclude about your proposal should be in your Executive Summary. Not the details. But what the details mean, what they add up to, and why that makes you the customer's best alternative. Your Executive Summary should introduce every key point you’re trying to make. It's not actually a summary at all. If you don’t know what to say in your Executive Summary, it’s because you don’t know what the point of your proposal should be, and this is a major problem to solve before you start writing anything.

You won’t discover what the point of your proposal is by writing about it. You want your proposal writing to prove the points you make. The points won't make themselves. You need to know the points you want to make before you start writing. In fact, you should probably hold a major review to make sure you intend to make the right points before investing in writing to support them. This is a solid argument in favor of writing your Executive Summary before you write the rest of your proposal.

What’s in most Executive Summaries

When you read your Executive Summary the way the customer will read it, you may not like what you see. Here is what most companies offer their customers:

See also:
Executive Summary

Bragging. Clichés. Unsubstantiated claims. The word "unique." Beneficial sounding platitudes that everyone will claim and are ultimately meaningless. Statements of commitment instead of how you will deliver results. A great deal of focus on being exactly what the customer asked for instead of being something better. A great deal of focus on your being experienced and qualified, as if everyone who is a contender to win won’t be. And just to top it all off, some background about the customer that they already know, as if being able to copy and paste from their website proves how well you understand them. Or worse, a claim that you understand them without anything to make it credible. And a pinch of stating the obvious about what will be “critical to the success of the project” or what is "vitally important" presented in such a way that it applies to everyone bidding. Oh, and let’s not forget the big revelation about how pleased you are to take the customer’s money submit your proposal.

If these things are in your Executive Summary, then this is what you have offered. In some Executive Summaries I have reviewed for companies, you have to read through almost a page of this stuff before you see anything offered at all. And then it's not differentiated.

Is this what you think the customer wanted? 

You may think your offering consists of the details that appear in your technical approach. However, the Executive Summary is essentially a statement of what you are offering. The way you articulate it in the Executive Summary is what you are offering. The rest just provides details that prove you can deliver what you’ve promised. 

Is this really who you are?

The Executive Summary is also who you are. Your mission statement, branding, and/or corporate identity statement are not who you are. You are what you claim to be in your proposal. And the Executive Summary is your proposal. If your Executive Summary is pointless then you are pointless. If your Executive Summary doesn’t say things that matter to the customer, then your offering does not matter and you do not matter. It does not matter how much you want to matter. And if your Executive Summary is all about you instead of being all about the customer, then who you are is narcissistic. You don't have to tell the customer who you are or what's great about you. You have to show the customer that they will get great results by selecting you.

The proposal is who you are until you win. Only if you win the proposal, do you get the chance to become what you deliver.

Prove that you matter

If you really do matter, then your Executive Summary should explain why. Only it shouldn’t be about you and why you matter. Your Executive Summary should be about what matters to the customer and how by accepting your proposal they will be better off than by choosing any other alternative. This is what your offering should be, and what your Executive Summary must show.

Your Executive Summary is not a summary of your proposal. It is the reason why the customer should accept your proposal. And you can’t write your proposal without knowing what that is. So start by figuring out why you are the customer’s best alternative and write an Executive Summary that demonstrates it.  Then your Executive Summary truly is your proposal.
 

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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