How to Write a Good Executive Summary
Mars, The Bringer of War is the first movement of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Composed in 1914, it’s a majestic, sweeping and doom-laden piece that builds and then comes at you in waves. Play it loud enough, and it can feel as if you are being attacked by an animal. It’s magnificent. It’s one of the most popular and recognisable pieces of classical music. It has been ripped off by a multitude of heavy metal bands, and the composer John Williams used it as an inspiration for his soundtrack to Star Wars – The Imperial March in particular.
Gimme Shelter, Come Together, Like a Rolling Stone, Whole Lotta Love, Astronomy Domine, Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black). Google those songs for fun, but if you know your Rock ‘n’ Roll you’ll know that they are the opening tracks for some of the most influential rock albums. Each song is a classic and it’s doubtful that their parent albums would have achieved their iconic status without them.
First impressions last, so like Holst, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Neil Young, make sure it’s a very good one. Executive Summaries tend to be scrambled together after all the heavy lifting of putting a tender response together is complete. I’ve come across some submissions where one hasn’t even been included.
Though marks usually aren’t awarded for executive summaries, they are easily the most important piece of writing in the entire submission. It’s your chance to quickly show the client that you understand their needs, how you are going to address them, and why you are the right organisation to do so. It may be the only chance you get to tell a cohesive story about your solution, as the format of the RFP may be disjointed, and poorly assembled, leaving no opportunity for a clear explanation.
It may also be the only piece of the document that a buying CEO and his executive team read. If they like what they see, they’ll take a keen interest in your progress – they may even make it known which response they favour to the assessment team. I prefer to write a first draft as early as possible –this is usually once I have a clear view of the actual solution. I then revise it until it is time to complete the document.
Executive Summary Structure
What are the key components of an executive summary? In the opening paragraph thank the client for the opportunity and indicate how you propose to respond to their RFP.
If you have been diligent in building a close relationship with the buyer you will have assembled a profile that includes his or her likes, dislikes, and needs for the solution that you are bidding for. You will also be able to identify the more obvious needs and concerns that are explicitly stated in the document. Pick out the most important of these and replay them to the buyer and his assessment team in the executive summary.
Provide a succinct overview of the people, processes, technology, and engagement model. Drive home how it is going to address the client’s needs and in a way that is unique to your organisation. You don’t want to provide a “me too” type solution. Leave that to your competitors.
In this section provide the evidence that you can deliver what is being asked of you. Refer to your expertise, methodologies and any unique selling points or distinct advantages that you have as a company. Also refer to contracts where you have implemented similar solutions, and if appropriate give an update on their progress.
Unless otherwise requested, don’t go into too much detail on price in the executive summary. Merely list what the service will cost. Every client loves value-add services, so make sure you refer to whatever is on offer – I’ll provide more information on value-add in a later post.
Finally, provide a brief summary, and indicate how important the opportunity is to your company.
Unless the RFP instructions indicate otherwise there’s no prescriptive length for an executive summary, but try to keep it to a minimum of a page for straightforward response and two to three pages for those that are more complicated.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this piece and that it helps you write a very good executive summary.
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