Many thanks to a friend who manages proposals for a technology company, for generously allowing me to share one of his wonderfully witty aphorisms:
“I keep trying to convince my sales colleagues that the Executive Summary should be the jewel in our proposals. The only problem is, with them it’s usually Ratner’s rather than Garrard’s”.
For American readers, I guess I ought to explain: Ratner’s was a low-end high-street jewellery chain in the UK, which was hastily rebranded after its eponymous CEO compared their product quality unfavourably to that of a Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich. Garrard, on the other hand, is the royal jeweller.
Now, this leads into a contentious debate – in that the Executive Summary is possibly the worst-executed section of many proposals: a huge missed opportunity.
The traditional view, propagated by misguided sales trainers since time immemorial, is that the Executive Summary “is the only part of the proposal that the senior decision-makers read, and so should be written for them”.
Buyers out there – remind me: that last proposal you evaluated. Did your boss arrive in the evaluation room as your review team sat down to score the proposals, rip out the Exec Summaries from each of the documents, and disappear warning that “You can do what you like in the evaluation meeting, but I’ll read these few excerpts and then tell you the answer you should have come up with all along”?
No, thought not.
Absolutely there’s a need to think about how you influence the final decision-makers – the team to whom the evaluation group report their recommendations. And some organisations with whom we’ve worked have started to do really cool stuff with glossy executive-level brochures, separate from (but intrinsically related to) the main proposal document.
But the “Executive Summary” – that opening section within the bound proposal – needs to condition and convince the evaluation team that your proposition is going to be the best. After all, if they don’t put your name forward at the top of the pile when they make their recommendations to the great and the good in the customer’s organisation, you’re highly unlikely to win the deal.
So this crucial opening section needs to establish empathy, showing that you truly understand the challenges and opportunities that they’re facing. It needs to discuss the characteristics of a great solution. And, crucially, it needs to establish the key win themes that will flow through the rest of your document. Your opening salvoes need to ensure that evaluators read the document having already decided that yours is likely to be clearly the best of the options open to them!