How to write a winning executive summary for a technology proposal

This post will teach you the most important factor that separates the best executive summaries from the pack.

Understanding this factor will help you write technology proposals that compete at the highest levels of influence and persuasion. 

Provided your solution elements are engaging, suitable and clear, this is the secret sauce. It will help you tune your executive summary to the needs of your prospective client. (Which is the entire point of the executive summary.)

How?

You must...

1. Focus on a single win theme and stick to it

A win theme is the central sticky idea that addresses your client's deepest need. It goes beyond simple benefits like saving money to understand the heart of the customer's problem. 

For example, a client may say they want a new CRM to improve efficiency. However, they really need to free up their staff from boring and frustrating manual tasks. Win themes target feelings like pain, frustration, and anxiety to resonate with clients on an emotional level.

Your solution might deliver multiple benefits, but each of those benefits needs to relate to a unified win theme. 

No, not “win themes”…

THEME.

ONE. SINGLE. THEME.

One theme based on the highest need your client has.

The problem that is giving them the most pain.

Let’s think creatively here. Let’s put on our human psychology and influence hats. Let me ask you a question…

Why does everyone remember the OJ Simpson trial. It was 20 years ago! Is it because of the obvious miscarriage of justice? The outrageous verdict? Why does this murder trial stick to society's collective consciousness? 

My answer? Eight simple words comprising one simple phrase. A phrase that when spoken, encapsulates the central theme of the entire trial. The entire winning strategy. The genesis of why the trial is legendary. 

I bet you can guess what it is: “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit!”

And there you have it. The most famous and effective "win theme" ever constructed in modern times. A theme so well engineered that a jury of 12 ordinary people were persuaded to find OJ Simpson not guilty. Not guilty despite the torrents of evidence and eyewitness testimony against him. The perception of reasonable doubt was created in just eight words, and history was made.

It’s no wonder that trial lawyers Johnnie Cochran and Robert Kardashian were paid the big bucks. They were the very best. True masters of the persuasion game. 

True masters of the win theme. A theme they used to sell an outcome.

And what is proposal writing if not structured persuasion? It's the sales pitch to position your response and win you business. Of which the executive summary is the doorway into it.

What is an executive summary if not both the opening and closing argument? A good one is always at its core, a summation of a single win theme.

2. Leverage the Cochran / Kardashian approach

Like Cochran and Kardashian at OJ Simpson's trial, your bid's win theme must stick inside the client’s mind.

When it comes to establishing yourself as the winning choice, you need every advantage. You are competing with other firms on a variety of factors: ability, solution design, value for money. Even branding and design play a role. 

Your bid might be technically perfect. A sound demonstration of presentation and a perfect solution. For the right price, with the right people.

But so might your competitors.

"Technically perfect" responses don’t always win. Human beings are irrational by nature. Our emotions drive our decisions and we justify them with post-facto rationalisations. So give your prospective client a sticky and emotional reason to engage you! Give them a theme. Give them a key. A shorthand by which they can construct a case for you in their own mind that you are the best possible provider...

That you are the droids they’re looking for.

It doesn’t have to be as explicit as OJ’s win theme. But it does have to be explicit in your mind as you craft your executive summary. The theme must be implicit within your bid response.

Speaking of craft...

3. Craft the win theme by understanding your prospect

Hint: Recognise that it’s never you that your client cares about.

You must get serious about appealing to their primal emotional need. How are they suffering? What makes your prospective client tick?

Talk to them. Have a conversation. It could be as simple as a phone call asking them: “what’s the biggest problem you guys are having?” Dig out as much intelligence from them as you can so that you can understand their biggest need.

Go to their industry briefings. Read the client’s strategic plan. Read their requirements documentation, the background and project overview statements.

Take a look online and research the previous contracts awarded to the client. Use tools like Austender or the equivalent in your country.

What previous technology projects or programs of work have they implemented? Is this a new initiative? Is it a project to fix a failed project? Most IT projects fail. Why did the last one fail?

Most important is to read between the lines. Deduce the single most significant pain point. Position the rest of your proposal towards alleviating that pain. Meet that need.

But James, what does emotion and pain have anything to do with a technology project?

Everything!

At the end of the day, a new technology implementation or a new solution is not just ‘cool to have’ in and of itself. A solution or an expert team is not useful to a client because you think it's great. Just because your company believes itself to be the best, doesn’t mean squat if you can’t position yourself as the answer to their prayers.

Let me clarify it another way...

Your offer is only compelling in relation to the specific need addressed. The most painful problem. Sure, a client can have plenty of requirements, plenty of "must haves". But at the end of the day, it's always driven by need.

Okay okay, I think I understand what you’re getting at. What else should we focus on in our executive summary?

Have you been paying attention?

Nothing!

One single specific win theme. That’s it.

Sow that seed. Use the executive summary to imprint the one idea that will anchor the rest of your proposal. Tie the rest of your content to it.

I don’t care if your bid is 200 pages long. I don't care if you're addressing hundreds of requirements. One central idea that you tie it all back to is all that matters. Don’t complicate your executive summary or the rest of your proposal with extraneous noise.

Make your point. Get in. Hit the theme and get out.

Bonus tip

Keep your executive summary to one page. Short and sweet. All you need is:

  • A summary of your understanding of the client's need
  • An overview of how your team and solution will alleviate this need.

Bang. Boom. Move on.

No client cares about who you are or how awesome you say you are. In an executive summary, this is extraneous stuff unrelated to their needs. Boring and useless!

And there you have it: how to write a winning executive summary for a technology proposal. 

Focus on a single win theme. Summon the ghosts of Cochran and Kardashian. Craft the win theme by understanding the key need of your prospective client and keep it short and snappy!

Agree or disagree? What do you think? 

Until next time,

James

PS: Researching your clients and crafting your win themes is what we do.