The Most Important Part Of A Sales Proposal: Executive Summaries That Pop
In my work in sales leadership, I see a lot of executive summaries in proposals, and they’re terrible. And I do mean terrible. On a scale of one to ten, most of them land between one and three. The reason is simple: salespeople don’t put enough energy into them.
Instead, they squander that valuable real estate cutting and pasting corporate boilerplate, thanking the client for allowing them to submit a proposal, or reviewing irrelevant background information like when their company was founded or how many offices they have.
The tragedy is that the executive summary could be the single most important element of a proposal. Done well, a client could read the executive summary and understand your entire proposal.
Here’s how to structure your next executive summary to take advantage of its potential:
1. Begin with the client’s situation.
What situation is your prospect in? Can you describe it so that anybody at that organization would say you know exactly what they’re trying to accomplish and what they’re up against? When summarizing the client’s situation, at the core should be the problems they’re trying to solve or the results they’re trying to achieve, as they have articulated them. It’s important to use their language and not yours, because the words people choose have deep meaning to them. We’re not paraphrasing, we’re capturing what they said.
2. Describe your solution.
What will you deliver as a provider of a service or product? When this is well written, a client would say, “I completely understand your solution. It makes complete sense to me.” Include all the elements of the solution, what you’re offering, how long it will take, and any assumptions you’ve made. The length of this section will depend on the complexity of your solution. But make sure you do more than say, “We’re recommending this widget.” Provide more detail about why you chose that particular widget or other project elements that would help the client succeed.
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3. Outline why the solution makes sense.
How does your solution resolve or address the needs of the client? Connect parts one and parts two above. Drill down on your unique win themes or value proposition. Walk them through the logic behind why they should choose you. This is where you get to tell your story…but notice this is the third part of a four-part process—not the first. Again, this is still written from the client’s perspective. What could they expect from you? What’s the reasoning behind that?
4. Clarify the economics.
What investment are you proposing this customer make? For some reason, salespeople tend to dance around this information, burying it on page forty-one. Be upfront. For most proposals, you can stay high level: If you’re giving them three options, you can say, “There are three options that range from X to Y.” If there’s a specific all-in price, list that price. If the price is made up of many pieces, group it by overarching category—like “design, build, and run,” for example. In any case, it should give the reader enough detail so that they could walk away clearly understanding their investment.
After reading the executive summary, the client should know with complete clarity that the vendor understands them, the solution is clear, there’s thoughtful reasoning behind how your solution can achieve their objectives, and what they can expect to invest.
If you take away only one thing about writing effective executive summaries, it should be this: write them from the client’s perspective. Everything should be in “client speak” versus your organization’s idiosyncratic language.
Remember, proposals aren’t showcases for your organization and solutions. This is the customer’s story, and you’re just part of the plot.