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How to write an Executive Summary for a proposal from the customer’s perspective

4 questions to answer when writing your Executive Summary, plus 13 critical considerations.

An Executive Summary for a proposal is not really a summary at all. If you are the customer receiving a proposal, do you really want to read a redundant summary before reading the proposal? Or do you want to find out what you’re going to get if you accept the proposal? An Executive Summary is a tool to help the reader make their decision and the evaluator to score the proposal. Extra and unnecessary reading that gets in the way and tends to annoy customers. Writing an Executive Summary that is redundant but smaller is not helpful.

Your Executive Summary should be written from the customer's perspective. To learn how to write your Executive Summary from the customer’s perspective you should learn how to read your proposal like the customer will. To write a proposal Executive Summary from the customer’s perspective, ask yourself:

  • What is the first thing that a customer wants to see or find out from your proposal? 
  • What comes after that? And after that? And so on…
  • What questions do they need answers to? 

The Executive Summary for a proposal should be written to provide quick answers to these questions so they don’t have to read your entire proposal to get them.

One way that an Executive Summary is used is to tell the decision maker what they need to know about your proposal so that they don’t actually have to read the proposal. They may have staff read the fine print and evaluate the details, and then read just the Executive Summaries to confirm the recommendation made by their staff. Or they may read the Executive Summary to set context before reading the proposal to see if it supports your claims. 

Proposals are often scored and not read. An Executive Summary enables them to use your proposal as a reference to see the explanation for the things that interest them the most, without having to read the entire proposal cover to cover like a book.

Your proposal may also need to cover a lot of detail that is routine, necessary, and not worth discussing or even thinking much about beyond whether it is present. Material like that does not need to be summarized. It just needs to be easy to find when they go looking for it. Summarizing it in the Executive Summary gets in the way of the reader discovering what matters about your proposal.

From the customer’s perspective, the Executive Summary should answer these four questions.

What am I going to get if I accept your proposal?

See also:
Executive Summary

The first thing on the customer’s mind is often:

  • What are you offering?
  • Why should I care about it?
  • Does it excite me?
  • Is it worth reading further?

They may need to see this before they bother to read your proposal.

The very first sentence in your proposal should not be some valueless introduction letting the customer know that this is a proposal, but should instead be a statement about what they are going to get that differentiates your proposal. 

Why is your proposal my best alternative?

Why should the customer accept your offer? They have alternatives. The customer always has alternatives to accepting your proposal. What makes a proposal their best alternative depends heavily on how they will make their decision. The Executive Summary should provide the information they need to reach a decision in your favor. If your proposal will be scored and not read, this means providing information that shows why you should receive the top score.

Can I trust you to deliver as promised?

If the customer likes what you’re offering, then the next thing they want to know is whether they can believe in your ability to deliver as promised. That’s when they ask questions like:

  • Who are you?
  • Do I know you?
  • Are you qualified?

And by “qualified,” they mean have you met the minimal requirements and completed any necessary paperwork for you to be able to do business with them.

But what they really want to know is “Can I trust you?” And no, they won’t take your word for it, so they start wondering:

  • Have you ever done it before?
  • Do you have a successful and relevant history that I can check up on? 
  • Are your proposed approaches credible? 
  • Is the staff who will do the work capable and reliable? 
  • Do you have the resources required? 
  • Are your estimates credible?

Your Executive Summary should establish your credibility for being able to deliver as promised.

What do I have to do to get it?

If the customer likes your offering and finds you credible, then they want to know what they have to do to get it:

  • Can they afford it? 
  • Is it still the best alternative when cost is considered? 
  • What steps do they have to go through, including both yours and theirs? 
  • If they have a formal procurement process, then their ability to get what you are offering may depend on your ability to navigate their procurement process. 

Answering this may include providing the information they need to conduct their proposal evaluation. It is a good idea to understand their procurement process so that you can provide the information they need before they have to ask for it.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

If you get answers to these questions in the first few pages, then you already know what conclusion to reach. Sure, someone has to read the proposal and make sure everything that has to be in there is actually there and evaluate all the details compared to all the other bidders. If you don’t get these answers, you remain indecisive and unmotivated. If your Executive Summary is about what you want to say, instead of what the customer needs to hear, that’s where you will leave them.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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