If you’re going to win or lose a bid purely on price, executive summaries don’t matter. But if you know that the winning depends upon being able to articulate your proposition more powerfully and competitively than the rest of the pack, then executive summaries can make a direct impact on the bottom line of your business.
The term ‘executive summary’ is an odd phrase. Yes, they’re aimed at executives – and often just one or two decision makers at that. But only occasionally should they be regarded as ‘summaries’. This is the case for all of the executive summaries that we write on behalf of clients because, for the very largest bids. the decision makers won’t be reading the hundreds of pages of detail contained in the rest of the bid. What they’ll want to know – and quickly – is why your organisation is the best. What makes you stand apart from the crowd?
Understanding this objective is critical as it has a direct impact not only upon the content of the summary, but upon the point in the bid writing process at which it is created. After all, if you can’t write your competitive executive summary at the start of the writing process, you’ve got to question whether it’s worth competing at all. This is another problem with using the word ‘summary’: it implies something that is written right at the end of a process.
‘Executive proposition’: a better term
Although this might be right for report writing it’s often better to think of these sections of a bid as ‘executive propositions’. This, after all, is where you articulate a clear, concise and competitive ‘no-brainer’ message. And draft one, we would argue, should always be written at the start of the bid writing process.
But the most important aspect of all is the competitive message. This isn’t necessarily the time to create an extended overview of how you get to that point but I would just say this: the message should be simple; you should be able to write it down; and it should be credible. Above all, it should deliver a knock-out competitive punch.
Here’s the hallmark of the message for an executive proposition: You should be entirely confident that if you can deliver this simple message to the brains of the decision makers then they will – all things being equal – give you the work. (By ‘equal’ I mean assuming that the price is right and that you can, actually, do what you claim.)
If you ask this question of yourself, honestly, and you’re entirely confident with your competitive position, then you’re ready to start writing the rest of the bid response.
Paul Ayling is the founder and CEO of Writing Machine.