Winning the Business

The Million Dollar Executive Summary

By focusing on the benefits and differentiators of your company’s solution, a well-written executive summary can help you win big

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It doesn’t cost a million dollars to write a proposal’s executive summary, but a powerful executive summary may help generate millions of dollars for your company. More than one decision maker has said that the executive summary and the financials are the only parts of a proposal they read. Thus, every effectual word and persuasive sentence you write for an executive summary should set off a “cha-ching” sound in your head. Above all, the executive summary should focus on the customers’ needs and wishes, and how your solution will bring them the results they desire.

The Opening

The opening is the hook to get decision makers to read the rest of your executive summary. There are four elements to the opening:

  1. Acknowledgment of the customer’s current need. Customers need to know that you “get” them, that you understand their pain points and what they value and desire.
  2. A concise description of your company’s solution—and its primary value propositions.
  3. Your company’s qualifications. How long have you been in business? Do you have a recognizable brand? What’s your experience working with similar customers?
  4. Your win theme and catchy message that capture the value of your solution. This win theme should be driven home at every possible juncture of your executive summary.

The Solution

The biggest mistake some proposal writers make in explaining their company’s solution is that they focus on its details and features instead of the benefits and outcomes the customer will experience as a result of the solution. That’s like describing the grandeur and wonder of the Grand Canyon in terms of how many rocks are in it.

In describing a solution, focus on some or all of these 10 sales hot buttons. They are the emotional deal-makers and deal-breakers of any proposal:

  • Money saved and return on investment
  • Time saved and convenience
  • Quality
  • Performance and operational reliability
  • Customer experience
  • Risk and how financial, reputational, and legal risk will be reduced
  • Trust and how you honor your commitments to customers
  • Control and the degree to which the customer can be in the driver’s seat with the solution
  • Ease of doing business with your company
  • Responsiveness when there is a question or problem

Leave out clichés, technical jargon, and hyperbole. If you describe everything as “cutting-edge” and “groundbreaking,” your credibility may be damaged. Superlatives are no substitute for factual proof. Most importantly, answer the customer’s question: “How will this benefit me?”

The biggest mistake some proposal writers make in explaining their company’s solution is that they focus on its details and features instead of the benefits and outcomes the customer will experience as a result of the solution.

The Closing

The closing should be succinct and powerful. Summarize key points (one to three sentences) and convey enthusiasm for what you and your customer can achieve together. The closing should include a call to action (when will you be back in touch with them?) and words of appreciation for being included in the vendor selection process.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

What we see can have a profound effect on what we do and buy. That’s why images can be the most emotional and convincing medium in an executive summary. Images convey ideas to the brain 60,000 times faster than text, encapsulate complex information, and are more easily remembered. Key points can be illustrated through high-quality photos, charts, and graphs. Also, different colors and fonts can be used to highlight key value propositions and allow side-by-side comparisons. Executive summaries should provide not only compelling narrative but also images and graphics that illustrate your solution’s true value while capturing your customer’s imagination.

The Winning Executive Summary

By focusing on your customer’s hot buttons, the benefits your solutions offer, the outcomes the customer will experience, and the differentiators that set your solution apart from your competitors’, you can position your solution for a win that may produce exciting results for your company.


Diane Hallock is the proposal team manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. She can be reached at diane.hallock@bluecrossmn.com.

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