Wondering what an executive summary is, whether you need one and how to get it right? Whether you’re new to writing bids, tenders, grants and proposals, or you’re looking to improve your executive summaries, ensuring you align with proven best-practice can help you to master what experts widely agree is the most important and most read section of a proposal, offering the most return on investment.
Tender responses are long, and it’s easy for critical information that you want to showcase to clients to get lost in the mix. First impressions matter, and this is your chance to make a great one.
What exactly is an executive summary?
Let’s start by consulting the dictionary to understand the component terms of an executive summary:
Executive – (adj) relating to or having the power to put plans or actions into effect; (noun) a person with senior managerial responsibility in a business.
Summary – (noun) a brief statement or account of the main points of something.
An executive summary is a brief statement making main points – without needless details – designed to be read by someone in a role who has the power and responsibility to make decisions.
How the tender selection process works (and where your executive summary fits in)
It may surprise you that in the world of tenders, your reader is less likely to be an ‘executive’ with decisionmaking powers. Executives are busy, and will rarely read an executive summary, let alone an entire tender response. Instead, executives rely on tender evaluators to read and score tenders, enabling executives to make informed decisions.
However, you should still write an executive summary as if an executive was reading it – clear, concise, and highlighting only what matters.
Why does an executive summary matter?
The role of your executive summary is to prepare tender evaluators by providing a guide to the main points they can expect in the upcoming bid – keeping in mind that tenders are often evaluated by a tender evaluation team, and its members will likely be assigned to read and evaluate a specific section, comparing it to sections which your competitors have submitted. It’s likely that none of the team members reading your evaluation will ever read your proposal in its entirety; however, your executive summary will given them a wider sense of context.
They may be tasked with reading, scoring and comparing many hundreds or even thousands of pages of content. Your executive summary highlights the most important reasons why to choose your bid, making their lives so much easier.
This means that your primary target audience has the power to make decisions about which proposal to recommend, so the buyer can best put their plans or actions into effect. The evaluator is also responsible for getting it right – for the benefit of their company, and for their own accountability.
Given the difficult task ahead of reading through tens of thousands of words per day, a well-written executive summary acts as an anchor to help them make sense of what follows. It’s easy to miss critical information when reading through a long text. Your executive summary should make their life easier – and they’ll be grateful for it!
Not only do executive summaries make it easy for a tender evaluator to read your bid, but it also makes it easier for them when they’re making recommendations to their executive team (i.e. the decision-makers). They can simply extract content from your executive summary that showcases your unique value proposition and justifies their recommendations. This makes an evaluator’s job much easier.
Of course, your underlying reason ‘why’ is to win the bid, and that means your executive summary should be a powerful sales pitch. In a few paragraphs, you have the chance to communicate “why us” – keeping things customer-centric ad benefits-focused. A well-written executive summary will, as the name suggests, summarise why your company should be the one to win!
How to write a great executive summary
To write a great executive summary, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the busy, time-poor people tasked with ensuring they choose the best provider to make this project succeed: at least one executive and one manager. You need to be succinct and to the point, while also being compelling.
Imagine if you had to tell someone what your proposal was about while standing on one leg – what would you definitely leave in, and what would you cut?
You should think about your executive summary as a marketing document – but this doesn’t mean filling up valuable space with marketing-ese, cliches, or empty AI-generated content that any of your competitors also could have written. You want to demonstrate that you’re both different and better.
Who should be involved?
An important consideration to write a great executive summary is who will be writing, and who will be contributing. Your sales/BDM team members should absolutely be involved, as they can offer important insight on what the customer wants to read – including unstated priorities and pain points that may not be immediately obvious.
Your BDM lead or opportunity/capture manager/executive should take a lead role; ideally, they will write the entire executive summary, with help from your proposal manager. However, it’s also generally fine simply for them to play a key strategic role by providing customer insight, supporting the proposal team to develop key messages, and then review the final executive summary and provide feedback on how it could be better suited to the customer.
Lastly, bid writers and editors can help improve the executive summary by optimising your wording and identifying and fixing any mistakes. Evaluators do judge the quality of a bid and the professionalism of your company by any typoes they find!
When should we start writing an executive summary?
In many fields, it’s often recommended that executive summaries should be written last. In the world of tenders & bids, the executive summary should be the last section to be finalised, but you should have a rough draft in place from the beginning of the bid writing process, even if it’s just bullet-points developed by your sales team.
This is because your executive summary also has a lesser-known use that can drive an important competitive edge; essentially, your executive summary’s first audience is your team. After all, if you don’t have a strong grasp of “why us?”, and you can’t summarise why you’d be a strong competitor, this may not be the right opportunitiy for you. Ideally, your rough-draft executive summary should be ready for the bid/no-bid decision gate review meeting, saving you considerable time, money and effort by not chasing opportunities that are strategically misaligned or difficult to win.
Proposals evolve, and so do executive summaries.
The details of your proposal can and generally do significantly change during the proposal development process, so its draft sections will be improved on as your bid evolves, you define and refine your selling points and discriminators, and you finalise your solution strategy. As these sections evolve, so will your executive summary.
Given that an executive summary is the most important part of your bid, you shouldn’t be waiting until the last minute to put it together. Rather, it should be a carefully considered summary that you’ve improved upon over the course of the bidding process, ensuring that its final iteration reflects your value proposition.
A well-written executive summary is a win-win for everyone concerned: your company, the executive and the manager that reads through your proposal. Take advantage of this opportunity to put your best foot forward!
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