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4 things you need before you can start writing your Executive Summary

Garbage in, garbage out.

What’s the point of it all? What does the customer want to hear from you? What do they need to complete their paperwork? What makes you their best alternative? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking as you prepare to write an Executive Summary for a proposal. To answer them, you need these four things:

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Executive Summary
  1. A winning solution or offering design. You can’t articulate why the customer should care about what you are offering, if you yourself don’t know what you are offering. You need to know what you are offering in order to describe how the customer will benefit from having it. One of the main goals of the Executive Summary is to show why your offering is the customer’s best alternative. You can do a great job of explaining why you are the customer’s best alternative using nothing but the RFP.
  2. Differentiators. What makes you and your offering better than any other alternative? Even when the RFP forces every bidder to offer the exact same thing, you still can differentiate. In fact, it becomes more important than ever. You can’t be great without also being different. When the customer compares proposals, they often focus on those differences. To articulate a winning message in your Executive Summary, you should start with the differentiators that make you better.
  3. The evaluation criteria. If your proposal will be scored through a formal evaluation process, your Executive Summary should match their scoring criteria. Your Executive Summary should show why your proposal deserves the top score, with the rest of your proposal providing the substantiation. All of the features of your offering, all of your differentiators, and every part of your proposal message should align with the evaluation criteria in the RFP.
  4. What matters. What matters about your offering? What matters about your differentiators? What matters about every single thing you say in your proposal? What matters to the customer? If you’ve said something in your Executive Summary that doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter. Delete it. If you are saying something that matters, make sure it explains why. When your judgment matters to the customer, the reasons why you do things can matter more than what you actually do. Focusing on what matters helps ensure that everything you put in your proposal can pass the “So what?” test. Focusing on what matters in your Executive Summary is a great way to demonstrate understanding.

Think twice. Write once.

There is a school of thought that says you should write your Executive Summary before you write your proposal. That way, you can flow down the messages and ensure your proposal substantiates what you said in the Executive Summary. The problem is that you can’t write the Executive Summary first if you don’t know these four things. When people write their Executive Summary last, they get time to figure out how to articulate them.
But then again, you probably shouldn’t write any sentence in your proposal without knowing these four things. How can you know what points to make and how to make them if you don’t know these four things? If you are writing without knowing what points to make, you are either writing a pointless proposal or a proposal that makes random points that aren’t likely to add up to the highest score on a competitive bid.

What this means is that you should be designing your offering separately and before you start your proposal. It is a prerequisite and not something produced during or late in the proposal process. You need to understand your differentiators before you start writing, and not try to figure them out while writing the proposal. Think twice, write once.

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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, 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.

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