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Executive Summaries: What’s the Point?

Exec Summaries

Not all bids require an Executive Summary but many do. There is often a lot of confusion and misconception around what you should include and what they’re for.

Executive summaries are most often used to allow senior decision makers get an idea of your overall proposal, without having to read the whole thing. While this can feel frustrating and make it feel as though you’re writing an entire proposal for no reason, it also emphasises the importance of getting your summary right.

What is an Executive Summary?

Overall, your executive summary should act as a short abstract of the key points within the bid. It should not be a comprehensive company history, or a glorified introduction to your main proposal. Put yourself in an executive’s shoes when writing your summary. Does it tell them what they need to hear?

The summary should:
  • Be written as a standalone piece of content.
  • Explain why the buyer should select you.
  • Follow the instructions provided and be clearly organised.
  • Relate to the buyer’s needs.
  • Be absolutely no longer than 2 sides of A4 (or around 1000 words) unless instructions say differently.
The summary should not:
  • Be a glorified introduction to the main proposal.
  • Act as a sales brochure for your organisation.
  • Be a company history essay.
  • Tell the buyer who they are and what they want.
  • Include any company jargon or boilerplate.

When to Write it?

There are two distinct schools of thought on when is the best time to write your executive summary. The APMP recommend that the executive summary should be the very first thing that you write and then refined throughout the process. Others however suggest that it should be the last thing you finish before submission to ensure it is as convincing as possible. Here are our thoughts:

Doing it First

Writing the executive summary first has a few obvious advantages. Firstly, it gives you and your team a clear understanding of the direction and key win themes of the overall bid. It helps everyone stay on point and on message. In this way, the executive summary is not only for the benefit of the buyer, but also your bid team, as a universal blueprint of your agreed plan for success.

Writing the summary early also offers the chance to continually refine it until the very end. This ensures that the final summary is as good as it can be, which – if this is all the decision makers will read – is very important.

On the downside, if your executive summary has issues, or if you decide on win themes which later change, writing it early on can tend to set your team into a rut from the start which can be difficult to escape further down the line. Of course you could just ditch the summary and write it at the end as with option 2, but there is still a risk that your overall proposal may suffer.

Doing it Last

Writing the summary last can be beneficial as you will have full hindsight on the whole proposal to help you as you structure it. This approach also allows for you to map the summary to the key points of the final proposal much more closely. There may be a key point, statistic or theme which emerged as you wrote the proposal which can take front-and-centre in your executive summary. While not impossible, this kind of change is much harder to incorporate in the first option.

The downside of this option is of course, that your proposal may suffer from not having an agreed, pre-defined structure unless this is mitigated for in other ways. If you have a multi-writer team, the proposal may also suffer as everyone may have different ideas on win themes and value propositions. Communication is much more important using this method.

Advanced Tips

As well as the general tips shared above, we have put together a few advanced tips to help take your summary to the next level.

Discuss benefits before features

This is quite a common tip in bid management, and sales more generally. Don’t go to town describing your features, without also explaining why they will be a benefit to your buyer.

Mention customer issues / hot buttons and how you can help

Use opportunities such as the site visit to make sure you gain an idea of the buyer, where they’re struggling, where the incumbent is failing them and how you can help meet their needs.

Describe the tangible and intangible value your solution offers

There are numerous value adds that you will be able to offer, it’s just a case of thinking of them. Not all value adds offer tangible value. if you’re struggling to think of value adds, think of intangibles instead. Offer value in ways the buyer may never expect.

Stress the price as a value proposition (if allowed)

If your price is as competitive as possible, or even more so than your competition, it is a good idea to express this as a value proposition if you’re allowed. Be careful not to overlook other value propositions in favour of this, as it may seem that you’re struggling to think of others, but if you’ve explained your other propositions well, you may wish to add this as your killer blow.

Don’t hide your price deep in your proposal but have it loud and proud right next to all the added value you are offering.


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Updated on April 30, 2019

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