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Why your Executive Summary should not be a summary

Are you being tricked by the name?

Don't let the name fool you. An Executive Summary has a specific purpose in a proposal. But it has nothing to do with the name.

If you don’t have time to read the whole proposal, what do you want to know? Is it:

  • A little about each section of the proposal?
  • What your own mission and goals are?
  • About the company submitting the proposal?
  • Why this proposal is your best alternative for getting the most of what you want?

An Executive Summary has little or no "summary" in it. An Executive Summary is a decision making tool.

An Executive Summary is not used like a mini-proposal or abstract to survey what’s going to be in the proposal prior to reading it. When they want to know what’s in the proposal, they read it because the details matter to them.

If you need a summary because there are a bunch of extra words the customer doesn't need to read in your proposal, then something is wrong. Delete the words, don't add more and call it a "summary." 

An Executive Summary should also not be created to help the customer understand the proposal prior to reading it. If the evaluator needs to read a separate document in order to understand your proposal before they read it, you’ve done something wrong. You've added more reading to the reading they don't want to do. Write your proposal clearly so that no extra written explanation is needed.

See also:
Executive Summary

An Executive Summary is not a summary at all. It is a rationale. It should contain what the reader needs to know to reach a decision, whether it reflects a “summary” of what’s in the proposal or not. If you want to make things easier for the customer, don't give them a summary. Give them something that makes it easier for them to decide that what you are proposing is their best alternative.

This does not change when a proposal will go through a formal point-scored evaluation. The Executive Summary still supports the decision, which means that it should show why your proposal is worthy of the highest score. But that doesn’t necessary mean summarizing all your point-scoring remarks, no matter how tempting it is to want to show worthiness for every single possible point. It may help the evaluator to get a preview of why you deserve a top score before they get down to detail. And it may help the decision maker or other stakeholders understand why the proposal got the score it did. But the emphasis should be on the needs of the evaluator, and not on how you think the evaluators should score your proposal. 

Should your Executive Summary show “understanding?”

Is your understanding necessary for the customer to get what they want? Is your understanding necessary to justify a high score? If it is, then the best way to show understanding is usually through results. If you are offering what the customer wants in a way that is better than any other alternative, you clearly understand what they need. But no matter how much you claim to understand them, if you don’t have what they want you clearly do not understand. If the evaluators have to read paragraphs of text copied from their website, they are not getting any value added or insight, and that shows you really don’t understand them.

Should your Executive Summary describe your qualifications?

If your qualifications make you the customer’s best alternative, your Executive Summary should explain why. Which will impact their decision more, the fact that you have certain qualifications, or how they translate into something better? The answer to this depends on how that particular customer reaches their decisions. The same applies to any teaming partners you might have. Why they are on your team probably matters more than a description of their qualifications.

What you should do instead of summarizing

Instead of writing a big fat proposal and then abstracting it into a little bit more to read, try making your Executive Summary an explanation of why your proposal is the customer’s best alternative. Your goal should be to enable them to make a decision in your favor with confidence. That takes more than just summarizing. 

So instead of summarizing, add things up. What do your responses to all of the customer’s requirements add up to? That is what the customer will get and what they are most concerned about. If what you offer sounds like it could be their best alternative, they’ll read the rest of your proposal to find out if your offering is credible. But they’ll read it in context and with interest.

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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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