The Three Pillars Of A Compelling Executive Summary
Updated: Sep 12
Whether you’re bidding for $20,000, $250,000 or $250M worth of work, the most important component of your sales proposal is the executive summary.
This is because it is usually the only document decision makers will read. So it has to be brilliant. This article explores what pillars make up a compelling executive summary so it works as the closer of your competitive, well thought out sales approach.
The Purpose Of The Executive Summary
Sadly, most of the time the executive summary is written at the eleventh hour and typically offers a summary of the sales proposal.
This is not the purpose of the executive summary, whatever the title may imply.
The executive summary exists for one reason only. To convince the decision makers you have the winning offer, hands down.
I believe a winning executive summary is supported by three pillars. If all are solidly in place, you have a good chance of winning. Leave out one and your sales offer becomes wobbly.
Leave out two, or all three and your sales proposal will fall into a heap as will your chance to negotiate further.
The Executive Summary Should Be A Thing Of Beauty And Strength
In my opinion, the three pillars you need to construct if you want to win over your audience while withstanding their objections are:
Extreme value (and it has to be what the client values)
Low risk (because you'll share the risk versus high risk if they do nothing or go elsewhere)
Competitive price (and if it includes ROI or savings realised elsewhere, even better)
I’ve put price as No. 3 in order of importance because I don’t think it’s as important as the first two.
Sometimes you’ll get feedback that you lost out due to price – you were too expensive. That’s just code for any number of things like, “we didn't pick you because you couldn’t show how your product or service aligned to our business objectives; we think you're arrogant; you're not partner material, you're just another transactional vendor; we don't believe you care, we know you'll ignore us once we hand over our money, or we’re not convinced you can deliver which makes it a risky proposition to our bottom line”.
The Importance Of Demonstrating Extreme Value
Articulating extreme value is important because a lot of what you offer will be similar to what your competitor can offer. In the technology space, most vendors are innovating at a similar pace. This means you have to think deeply about what is truly exceptional about your offer or your company’s ability to deliver a particular solution or service. It means you’ve got to really think through the value proposition or what else you can put on the table that goes beyond delivering a compelling and compliant response.
Why It’s Crucial To Prove Low Risk
In the B2B technology space implementing new technology means people have to do things differently. Firstly they have to figure out how to use the new technology and secondly they have to get used to following new business processes that come about due to the technology uptake.
Most people struggle with change and some are very resistant to it. There have been many IT horror stories where a multi-million dollar software investment has failed and is pulled out of a company. When that happens, the company’s investment in its future – expanding its geographic base or increasing revenue – is put in peril and the decision-maker’s career is put in jeopardy. Thus your decision makers are nervous and even anxious about risk.
In my view, risk is the single biggest point of friction that gets in the way of closing a deal.
And while most sales executives throw in the well-worn phrase, “our offer is low-risk”, it often isn’t supported by enough believable evidence as to why or how their solution is low risk.
A Competitive Price Versus A Low Price
As we all know, a competitive price isn’t the cheapest price. Yet it amazes me how many times negotiations will come down to mainly wrangling about price. In my view, if this is happening to you, it's due to one or two things: you haven’t done your homework in benchmarking a competitive win price (your offer is substantially more pricey than what the competition has offered) and you haven’t proven high value and low risk.
Being too expensive is not a problem if you’ve clearly articulated a compelling story that proves high-value, low risk. The client will come back to negotiate a competitive price.
However, if you haven’t convinced the client your offer is high value and low risk, you either get the, “sorry you’re out of the game because you’re too expensive”, or the client will go rounds with you on price until you offer something that is below acceptable margins. It’s a dangerous place to be as it’s more difficult to position your products or services in the future as high-value deserving of a premium fee.
Even If It’s About Price, Take A Strong Position
One caveat here: there may be the odd occasion that a potential client is only interested in paying the lowest possible price for high-value products or services. Normally, it’s best to walk away. However, some organisations will wear the cost of putting down a low price to ensure entry into a new industry or to woo a client that has a strong global brand and offers a goldmine of future work. That’s a strategic business decision requiring careful consideration.
If you decide to go down this path, it’s a good idea to have the right words in place as to why you’re acquiescing to such a low price, with your messaging, tone and approach coming from a position of strength not weakness. This is where a communications specialist or bid writer comes in handy to finesse the subtle nuances of sales negotiation in print.
An executive summary isn’t a summary of your sales proposal. It's an opportunity to wow the potential client into wanting to give you the business right there and then. And it will only do that if it is supported by the three pillars of:
low risk, and
So don’t haphazardly slap together an executive summary a few days before your bid is due. It is the most important document in your sales proposal and deserves days and even weeks of your attention and writing effort if you want to close more deals.