The old adage, you only get one chance to make a first impression carries a lot of meaning when it comes to the executive summaries you include in your company's proposals.
The Value of Brand in Your Proposal
The executive summary is your first, best chance to sell yourself--it had better be compelling, and it had better track with your brand messaging. That said, your company's brand is definitely an important factor in making a first impression. Use branding to distinguish your company from the competition. Your brand needs to be infused into the content and format throughout any proposal document, beginning with the executive summary. Branding helps communicate company values and qualities in a proposal just as it does in any other marketing document, and a recent survey conducted by the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) shows us that branding and quality play a very significant role in a company's perception and perceived value of their proposals.
The executive summary of your company's proposal will be the most read and widely distributed section of your RFP submission. It is the single component of your submission that serves to convince decision-makers to learn more about your company and the solution being offered.
What is its purpose? If you answered, to summarize the proposal, think again:
"What you're really trying to do is lay out the business case."
- Tom Sant, founder of the Cincinnati-based Sant Corporation and author of Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win Customers, Clients, and Contracts
Keys to Creating a Compelling Executive Summary
Putting together a compelling executive summary is of great importance, from better communication within your corporate team to the success and growth of your company. A compelling executive summary should:
- Focus on the client. The client should be the centerpiece of your proposal. Here you have an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of the client's concerns, needs, and priorities; what solution is best for the client's situation and why; how you're going to deliver that solution in a timely, economical, and responsive manner; and what the desired outcomes will be.
- Highlight all the basic objectives of your company's proposal. Describe how you're going to help the client is the most important part of your proposal.
- Detail the capabilities of your company. Include the past and present accomplishments of your company. Briefly describe the key executive management team. A paragraph that highlights the individual team members' accomplishments in your market.
- Recommend the solution and explain its value. Here you're not focusing on what it is, but on what its return or benefits will be. Expound on why your company is best suited for entering into a business partnership.
- Outline the strategies. Summarize the reasons why a decision-maker should buy or implement the solution you are advocating.
- Provide substantiation. Give the key reasons why your company is the right company to deliver the solution. Here's where you can differentiate yourself--highlight a unique methodology, for instance, or provide a quick case study of your past work.
- Present bottom-line benefits. Describe some form of a monetary, time, or resource gain that can be spelled out in greater detail later in the white paper. This doesn't mean giving away all your solution advantages up front, however, it does mean providing enough information that will entice evaluators to read the rest of the proposal and find out what those benefits are.
- State your competitive advantage. Assuming you have a clear competitive advantage, take the description a step further and communicate how your business plans to sustain that advantage.
Crafting Your Executive Summary
Many proposal teams believe this section of the proposal to be the most difficult to create. You must boil down a relatively lengthy document that carefully contains a thorough description of your business to a few pages.
- Create a Central Theme. The best proposals have a story to tell, a central narrative that weaves all proposal elements into a cohesive message. The basic storyline usually involves linking the client's concerns, needs, and aspirations with what your company has to offer. Most proposals are a paint-by-numbers response to the RFP--and little else. They are often prepared by multiple writers who have made too little effort to define a common thread among their individual contributions. The results come off as piecemeal and unfocused.
- Write with an Eye to the Audience. The executive summary needs to be well conceived and written in a style that is easy to understand. It must be concise, interesting and believable. You want your summary to reflect an exciting--and achievable--opportunity. Thus the executive summary demands a whole different approach to writing than the rest of the proposal, one that balances efficient delivery of key information with a persuasive, well-substantiated pitch.
- Make It Easy to Read. Intuitive organization and packaging are critical key areas of functionality. Use formatting and graphics to highlight your message. Use of color will make the executive summary easier to skim, and well-chosen targeted graphics and photos can be instrumental in driving key points home.
- Keep it to the Point. Too often the executive summary is a cut-and-paste job and it shows. Typically, the executive summary is appropriately created once you have completed the solution. Keep in mind, it is very important to create the executive summary as a compelling synopsis, and not as an afterthought.
A strong executive summary is crafted with the audience firmly in mind: busy executives interested in bottom-line deliverables, not details. "An executive reads for certain keywords and for the price," says Stacia Kelly, president of Catklaw, a Woodbridge, Va.-based writing boutique. "If he likes it, he'll hand it to an assistant and ask them to read the whole thing."
Creating a well-crafted and compelling executive summary takes time and a lot of thought. Don't underestimate the discipline it takes to create this section. Your company deserves to make a powerful and positive first impression. After all, it's the only one it will get.