Anatomy of a Winning Executive Summary

Executive Summary, Proposals, Sales Process, Sales Proposals
October 16, 2017

Executive SummaryAny organization can spit out a boilerplate proposal with an underwhelming executive summary. What’s difficult is writing a succinct executive summary that convinces your prospect to move forward with you. It takes a specific formula to write a winning executive summary every single time.

A Good Executive Summary is a Big Deal

The executive summary is one of the most important parts of the sales process. It’s the mini-version of your proposal that key stakeholders actually have the time and capacity to read.

It’s the only touch that many of your key stakeholders will get with you and your organization, as it’s impossible to meet with every decision-maker involved in your project.

This is also one of the opportunities you get to convince your prospect that you have the ability to handle the details of their project, and that you can do it in a manner that enables the achievement of business goals.

But It’s Easy to Mess Up

We see a lot of issues with the executive summary. Many common errors include too much vendor information (aka “vendor vomit”), too much information about your company (how long you’ve been in business, etc.), not enough focus on your prospect and what they want to achieve, or small errors.

Any one of these things will lead to an ineffective executive summary and can persuade your prospect in the wrong direction. Consistently producing executive summaries that miss the mark will reduce the number of sales you close.

Getting the Formula Down for a Winning Executive Summary

However, there is a formula for success with executive summaries. Using this system can help you develop proposals that hit the mark every single time.

By implementing this formula, you take the guesswork out of writing an executive summary that’s persuasive, digestible, and effective in convincing your prospect that you understand their issues completely.

Do you know the I/U ratio of proposals?  Read on and find out!

Part One: Start Here

The first part of a winning executive summary is customer background. Draw your reader in with proof that you know your customer like the back of your hand.

You should discuss where your customer is right now, how they got there, and the challenges they’re facing at this precise moment.

Knowing the “you are here” status of your prospect is the perfect way to engage your reader and give them incentive to move on to the next part of your executive summary.

Part Two: Move on to This

The second part of your executive summary is where you discuss the goal they’re trying to accomplish with your technology solution. What are the measurable results they’re trying to achieve?

Why do they want to make a change? How will this benefit the company and the different key stakeholders you are working with and the teams that report to them?

These are incredibly important concepts to discuss early on in the executive summary because it shows your prospect that you understand the results they are trying to achieve and why they are interested in making the change.

Part Three: Address These

After you discuss the goals your customer wants to accomplish, it’s time to discuss the challenges that are preventing them from accomplishing those goals today.

What are the external and internal obstacles that have made them unsuccessful in accomplishing these goals thus far?

Answering this will help you communicate to your customer that you understand their unique situation and that you have helped to solve similar problems in the past, giving you the credibility you need to earn their trust and respect.

Use these 5 simple steps to craft a winning Executive Summary! [Download Now]

Part Four: The What

The “what” is the solution that you are proposing. You want to discuss your technology and how it ties back to the business problems your prospect is trying to solve.

But there’s a catch: you need to continue to avoid the vendor vomit that is so prevalent in ineffective executive summaries. License to discuss the technology is not a license to go into a lengthy technological explanation, a soliloquy about the manufacturer, or a list of parts.

Everything you include in your executive summary should tie back to the customer and the business goals you’re helping them achieve with your technology solution.

Part Five: The Secret Sauce

Here’s the really important part of an effective executive summary. It’s often under-emphasized or left out completely, and can be the difference between closing a deal and not closing a deal.

So what is this amazing and overlooked part of the executive summary? The value proposition. This is where you specify the ROI your customer can expect to achieve with your solution, and why your business can do it better, faster, and with the best results.

Bonus: The I/U Ratio

This is a concept in sales that’s not well known, but is incredibly important. It’s one of the ways that you can discern an effective executive summary from one that focuses too much on your company.

You review your proposal and highlight any parts that discuss the “I” (i.e. your business, manufacturers, your solution) and the “U” (any time you discuss your customer). Ideally, your “I/U Ratio” is somewhere around 20% “I” and 80% “U”.

Typically, this ratio is inverted. That is a big mistake that could be costing you sales. Try this exercise out to determine if you’re losing business because you have more “I” than “U.”

Ultimately the point of your executive summary is to serve as your “book flaps.”

You want to give your reader the summary of the proposal in an incredibly persuasive and digestible manner that gives your reader a reason to invest the time in the rest of your proposal and ultimately to take action with your organization.

It’s definitely worth the investment to standardize your process and build templates that work for your organization.

This is one of the most important aspects of the sales process, and when given the time and attention it deserves, it will become an incredibly powerful tool that you can use to close more business on a consistent basis.

Important Steps in the Executive Summary

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