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How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

Like the devilishly tempting Hostess Ding Dongs treat, a proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. Unlike […]


Category: Tag: Executive Summary

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

Like the devilishly tempting Hostess Ding Dongs treat, a proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. Unlike that aforementioned hockey puck of delectability, proposal cover letters cannot be mass-produced. To write a proposal cover letter with nary a wasted word, you first need to understand its strategic significance in the overall proposal.

I’ve spent more than 17 years on proposals and have written hundreds of proposal cover letters. When I started, we printed out proposals and created huge binders to share with reviewers. Reviewers would open the binders to see the proposal cover letter, then an executive summary, and then dig into the proposal itself. Binders are part of a bygone era; there’s been a big digital shift since I started.

Requests for paperless submissions and the growing popularity of online portals has altered the strategic significance of the proposal cover letter. It’s gone from a “must-have” element, to a “nice-to-have” one. My background is predominantly healthcare and insurance. Anecdotally, maybe only 30% of requests for proposals (RFPs) in healthcare and insurance request executive summaries while most volunteer that a cover letter is optional. If they give you an option, take it.

Some online portals don’t even give you an opportunity to include extra documents like cover letters. In such cases, you now have to include the cover letter as part of your proposal PDF. At the same time, RFPs are more complex than ever, requiring more details in submitted proposals. Issuers expect you to have your content in order, and a lot of it.

Speaking of issuers and what they’re looking for in proposal cover letters: They don’t need information that they can find on your website, that they can Google, or that sounds canned. They want to make sure you’ve reviewed the RFP requirements, and it’s absolutely essential to hit them with that up front, in your proposal cover letter. Especially if your solution meets all of the issuer’s requirements. Emphasize that fact simply and directly.

What is a proposal cover letter?

The proposal cover letter is meant to frame up your RFP proposal. It’s not a rehashing of the proposal or executive summary. It’s a vehicle to thank the issuer for the opportunity to respond, to say, “We’ve seen your business requirements and composed this proposal because we think we’re the best partner for you.” Think of it as the bow on your RFP proposal package.

Whether paper, PDF, or stone tablet, one thing that hasn’t changed about the proposal cover letter is that it’s your first opportunity to declare the value propositions that differentiate yours from competitive proposals. These value props will be the threads that weave through your proposal, from cover letter, to executive summary, to answers to questions.

As far as length, I aim for a page and a half when I write proposal cover letters. Try to keep it under two. Go longer only if a template or specific framework for the cover letter is provided by the issuer, which is sometimes the case in government RFPs.

Why a good proposal cover letter matters

RFP reviewers will be looking for deviations in responses. Deviations among responders as well as deviations from their (the issuers) requirements.

When you can write a cover letter and state, “After reviewing the RFP, we are confident that our solution meets all requirements and detail that fact in our proposal,” you make a compelling argument for reviewers to concentrate on how your proposal illustrates how you solve problems. They’ll notice cover letters that do not mention something that direct, and will review those proposals to look for where the solutions fall short.

When should you write the proposal cover letter?

It’s page one so it should be written first, right? Not necessarily. I’m a proponent of writing the executive summary first, the cover letter second, and then building the proposal. Certainly review the RFP first so you can determine what it’s asking for. But don’t just jump into a response from there. Take the time to establish the value props that will make it a cohesive proposal.

Writing the executive summary first helps you formulate your argument and determine which content you’ll need for the proposal. Once you know what you need to be persuasive and how you can solve the issuer’s problem, then you can develop the three-to-five value props (I try to boil it down to three solid, unique value props) that you can define in the proposal cover letter.

Who signs the proposal cover letter?

Notice I didn’t title this section, “Who writes the proposal cover letter?” The person who writes it and the person who signs it may not be one and the same.

If your proposal team is fortunate enough to have a dedicated writer, then have them write the letter based on input from the frontline sales rep. Whoever writes the letter must be fully informed of response strategy and have intimate knowledge of the proposal and executive summary. Strategy, voice, and style need to be consistent across all documents (cover letter, executive summary, and proposal).

Who signs it depends on a variety of factors. In most cases, the frontline sales rep will sign the proposal cover letter. They have the relationship, own the strategy, and likely conducted the discovery that informed the proposal. However, it’s not uncommon for an executive sponsor such as a VP of sales to sign. The thinking being that executive reviewers may appreciate seeing a proposal that’s been vetted by a fellow executive.

There are also those cases when the executive of executives, the CEO, signs the letter. There are two common scenarios for this play. One, the RFP may be large enough to represent a significant percentage of a responder’s annual revenue. Two, the responding organization is concerned with appearing relatively small, and in an effort to improve its stature, seals the proposal with a CEO’s signature.

There’s definitely some gamesmanship at play here. Even so, the name on the letter will never overshadow the content of the proposal.

7 steps to write a proposal cover letter

The compact nature of the proposal cover letter makes it difficult to fit everything in one or two pages. Good writers are valuable assets in these instances. Every proposal cover letter should contain the following sections:

  1. Thank the issuer (and broker, where applicable) for the opportunity.
  2. Recite your understanding of the opportunity to validate that you reviewed the RFP requirements.
  3. List your abilities to meet requirements. If you can meet all of them, lead with that fact.
  4. Describe your value propositions. You’re trying to portray that, “This is what we bring to the table, and that’s why we’re the best choice.”
  5. Provide a high-level future snapshot of what business will look like after your solution is chosen.
  6. Conclude with a persuasive delivery of your understanding of next steps: “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further.” Show that you’re able and willing to move forward in the sales lifecycle.
  7. Sign it from the frontline sales representative or executive sponsor. This should not look like a form letter from the organization as a whole.

3 common mistakes to avoid

Beyond the mistakes of not including a proposal cover letter at all or writing one that’s too long, proofread your next letter for the following mistakes before sending it.

  1. Avoid repeating anything from the executive summary or proposal. Those documents need to live on their own, just like the proposal cover letter.
  2. Don’t waste space with your resume. Something like this…

    RFPIO’s growing list of 600+ clients including 40+ Fortune 500 organizations continue to take advantage of our one-of-a-kind Unlimited User licensing model, expanding their usage on the platform to scale organizational success. With RFPIO as their team’s support system, every day they break down silos by facilitating collaboration and efficiency in their RFx response process
    ….is boilerplate that can appear elsewhere in the proposal or not at all, given that it’s likely available to the issuer on your corporate website.
  3. If a broker is involved, thank them, too. The proposal cover letter is also an opportunity to directly address the issuer. This can be particularly valuable when a broker is involved. Some issuers rely on RFP brokers to sift through responses to make sure only the best possible solutions get serious consideration. Ignore these brokers at your peril. While the response and executive summary will address the issuer and the problem at hand, the cover letter is where you can give a nod to the broker. Acknowledging their involvement in the process and thanking them for the opportunity as well will at the very least alert all reviewers that you paid close attention to the RFP requirements.
  4. Don’t guess. Make sure you or someone on your team does the legwork and discovery to inform your response strategy. The more you have to guess, the longer the letter will take to write.

Proposal cover letter example

Feel free to use the proposal cover letter example below as a template for your next letter. One of the many advantages of proposal building software such as RFPIO is the automation of the cover letter process. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to write it, but RFPIO helps:

  • Access and write in the template within the platform (no need to toggle back and forth between a word processor and whatever application you’re using to build your proposal)
  • Include identical brand elements as the proposal and executive summary
  • Add the cover letter to the front of the proposal and/or executive summary when you output it for submission

When you use the following example, you’ll need to swap out the RFPIO-centric items with your own company and solution information as well as the custom value props for that specific proposal. The three value props highlighted in the example are Salesforce integration, data security, and customer support. For your letter, these will be specific to your solution and the problem stated in the RFP.

Hi [Issuer(s) first name(s)],

Thank you for considering RFPIO as your potential vendor for RFP automation software. We are cognizant of the effort it takes to make a selection like this, so we very much appreciate the opportunity. First and foremost, RFPIO meets all of the requirements detailed in your RFP. That’s illustrated in greater detail in this proposal. In the meantime, the following capabilities make us confident that RFPIO is the most qualified company and solution for [issuing company name’s] [RFP title].

  • Helping businesses improve and scale their RFP response process for greater efficiency. The time and resource savings reported to us from our clients has allowed them to participate in more proposals and provide high-quality responses that create additional revenue opportunities.
  • Automating the import and export functions, centralizing content for RFPs, and facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders.
  • Managing knowledge and content through our AI-enabled Answer Library.
  • Giving clear visibility into the entire RFP process through reports and dashboards—including project status and progress, and analytics for actionable insights.

We know that it’s important for [issuing company name] to find a solution with a strong integration with Salesforce. This proposal details RFPIO’s integration with Salesforce, and how it will work for you. In addition to that, RFPIO’s open API allows for integrations with many other technologies for cloud-storage, collaboration, and other desired platforms.

We also take your data security concerns highlighted in the RFP very seriously. You can be assured that your data will be safe and accessible. We work with a variety of enterprise customers and understand the necessary level of security that is required. From the beginning, we made it a priority to build security right into RFPIO’s technology, which we continue to maintain. We are SOC 2 and ISO27001 certified, while continuing to pursue other best-in-class certifications to ensure security.

Regarding your requirement for ongoing support following implementation: When it comes to customer support, our technical and account managers are high performers. We have an expert group of 110 nimble programmers and developers who are always ready to provide quick technical fixes (that you can request right within the solution). Our reliable and attentive account team is ready to fully support [company name] should we move forward as your vendor.

Upon deploying RFPIO, it’s intuitive user experience is simple to get used to. You’ll also get free access to RFPIO University for all your training needs, now and in the future. Getting started is as simple as loading that first project. The whole team will be collaborating from there. As your Answer Library grows, machine learning will provide more and more automation opportunities. It won’t be long before you see a drastic uptick in proposal quality and number of proposals submitted.

If you’re interested in comparing our solution to other comparable tools, we recommend that you visit software review platform G2 Crowd’s top RFP Solutions grid. This information is based on user satisfaction and places RFPIO at the top in all categories.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further. We appreciate your consideration, and wish you luck on your selection.

Thanks,
[Signee’s name]
[Signee’s title]

You should have it “cover”-ed from here

If you’ve done your research and client discovery, and you know the value props specific to the RFP that you’ve already reviewed, then letter writing will go fast. The better you know the client and people involved, the easier it is going to be for you to tailor the proposal cover letter, the executive summary, and, most importantly, the RFP proposal.

To learn more about how RFPIO can help you write better proposal cover letters, schedule a demo today!

Follow along as I craft an RFP executive summary example

Follow along as I craft an RFP executive summary example

I recently wrote an article on how to write an executive summary that will give you the best chance to win your request for proposal (RFP). It’s a riveting read! I included a template in that article to give you a head start. Now I’d like to draft an executive summary example with you using that template.

Now I’m not suggesting that you create War and Peace here, but there are some key elements you need to include. And, as I mentioned in the other article, follow Dr. Tom Sant’s guidelines for persuasive writing, namely following his NOSE acronym:

  • Needs: Demonstrate your clear understanding of the prospect’s business problems. Only by demonstrating that you truly understand the customer’s specific problems, and that you understand the business payoffs of solving those problems, are you qualified to recommend a solution.
  • Outcomes: Confirm the results they will achieve when their problems are solved.
  • Solution: Recommend a specific solution.
  • Evidence: Illustrate how you’ve solved similar problems in the past and provide convincing proof of your track record.

Follow along or skip to the section you want to focus on:

“N” of NOSE: Understanding your prospect’s needs
“O” of NOSE: Surfacing desired outcomes
“S” of NOSE: Presenting the solution
“E” of NOSE: Providing evidence of your solution’s validity,
Conclusion: Sign off with a thank you

I recommend opening the template in a separate window and reviewing this example in parallel with the instructions included in the template. It’s a richer experience.

Also, note that I created the example using a fictional software company (“Paradocx”) responding to another fictional company’s RFP (“ACME”). While Paradocx is a complete fiction, ACME is loosely based on a running gag in Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons—but still a complete fiction.

RFP executive summary example: Read, copy, and make it your own

The first thing you’ll notice in the executive summary example is that I’ve dubbed it an executive briefing instead of an executive summary. “Brief” is more active and meets the expectation of the executive, the intended audience of this document. The intention is to inform and persuade the executive, not attempt to abbreviate and condense the response into a couple of pages. Most of the time, the executive will only read this brief instead of the whole RFP, so it has to be right on the money.

Executive Briefing

Thank you for inviting Paradocx to participate in ACME Global’s RFP for your time travel software initiative. The entire Paradocx team is eager to partner with ACME, and having carefully considered your requirements, we are very confident we can deliver a solution that will deliver significant efficiencies and competitive advantage to your organization.
In this executive briefing, we outline how our solution will address ACME’s stated requirements and deliver on your desired outcomes. We provide a high-level overview of Paradocx’s recommended solution, before then providing justification as to why Paradocx is the right choice for ACME.

“N” of NOSE: Understanding prospect’s needs

Our Understanding of ACME’s Needs

Safe, on-time delivery of overly complex devices intended to capture roadrunners—no matter how remote the location or how much TNT is included—is essential to maintaining ACME’s perceived value and satisfying subscribers. In our conversations with your team, you have informed us that you currently face several challenges with ACME’s shipping and packaging services, including:

Skyrocketing customer churn rate
Simply put, when deliveries don’t arrive on time, customers are rushed, mistakes are made, and roadrunners escape. Dissatisfied customers are quick to terminate subscription services, especially with your primary competitor, Zambezi, offering incentives to do so.

Fewer new subscriptions
ACME market share has dropped by an average of 6% year-over-year since 2017. Influx of competitors such as Zambezi has created a price war over scarce consumer dollars. ACME’s safety reputation has been damaged by social media coverage of unplanned TNT explosions.

Response times slowed by lack of data, poor decision-making
Unexpected supply chain delays surprised ACME during the pandemic crisis of 2020 and 2021. Siloed data and legacy systems that could not be integrated blocked the packaging department’s ability to find new materials in a timely manner. Panic buying of sawdust and styrofoam peanuts resulted in a dangerous hazardous waste debacle.

Too many missed on-time delivery milestones
Inability to find replacement parts for Rube Goldberg contraptions delayed delivery on more than 17% of orders in Q2 2021. Lack of communication with shipping resulted in promises of delivery times and sites based on 2018 manufacturing times that could not be matched in 2021.

“O” of NOSE: Surfacing desired outcomes

ACME’s Desired Business Outcomes

By implementing ACME’s Time Travel SaaS Platform, you wish to benefit in several ways in addition to addressing the above challenges. The desired outcomes you shared with us include:

Reduce churn while increasing customer retention
By resetting the timeline and meeting shipping deadlines for 90% of transactions tagged as “late arrival,” ACME will eliminate cause for switching services while limiting risk to reputation.

ACME will also be able to proactively alter shipping deadlines based on navigation of the near future. Headcount in the shipping and packaging department can remain constant until customer onboarding rate outpaces customer churn rate.

Distance ACME further ahead of the competition
Next-level customer rewards programs will make for a difficult choice if customers want to take their business to competitors such as Zambezi. Additionally, improved response, accurate deliveries, and better overall service will make leaving ACME even less appealing.

Many Paradocx customers have related to us that even minor interruptions in the timeline allow them to gain a toehold against aggressive competitors. Like a loud noise distracts an angry dog, time travel disrupts competitors’ momentum and returns the advantage back to our customers.

Accelerate response time

Responding to complex order requests to remote destinations takes time, especially if fireworks are involved or the destination is not a physical address. Consequently, roadrunners have already passed the target zone by the time deliveries arrive, resulting in frustrated customers.

A time travel software solution can deliver significant efficiencies to address these concerns, as well as significantly improving the probability of upgrading orders to increase average order value.

Guarantee delivery to desired destination, no matter how remote

There’s nothing scarier than receiving a delivery request to a pin on a map. No address. No roads. And barely any landmarks to establish a frame of reference. Despite their name, roadrunners don’t always spend their time on main highways. Coyotes need to follow the scent no matter how treacherous the terrain.
With ACME’s Time Pause functionality, shippers can freeze time for up to 72 minutes and reroute our GPS satellite to the delivery site. From there, it’s just a matter of drawing a topographic map of the area and letting our AI-enabled drone army strategize a delivery plan.

“S” of NOSE: Presenting the solution

Paradocx’s Recommendation for ACME

Having diligently studied your requirements and challenges, stated above, we strongly urge ACME to invest in Paradocx’s Time Travel SaaS Platform.

Paradocx’s market-leading solution was designed with customer retention and improving service quality as priorities. Paradocx’s founders were career time travelers and therefore have firsthand experience of how to reset timelines while managing chaos risk. Simply put, our solution was designed by time travelers to help you control time.

Consequently, Paradocx will eliminate ACME’s past mistakes so you can reduce customer churn and begin increasing subscriber revenue. The core capabilities of our solution are highlighted in the graphic below:

Paradocx’s Key Functionality – An Overview

Analysis of the Past:

Without time-traveling software designed to analyze past transactions and identify the flashpoints that undermined your intended customer experience, you can spin your wheels for years. Even if you are lucky enough to find the right transactions, you still need the ability to travel backward and alter the outcome.

Paradocx’s Analysis of the Past allows you to alter only the outcomes that matter so that you don’t waste resources on those that don’t. This functionality also limits your risk of causing chaos or possibly opening a wormhole.

Timeline Correction:

Some say that there is inherent danger in changing the past and that doing so becomes an exercise in butterfly effect management. We agree.
Butterfly effect management is the difference maker in timeline correction. Following Analysis of the Past—when we’ve identified the most impactful flashpoints—our patented timeline correction process reverses results while limiting butterfly effect risk. Moving forward, butterfly effect management will result in fewer timeline corrections with future planning.

Future Planning:

It’s not enough to change the past and live in the now. Maintaining competitive performance for the long haul requires future planning based on insight into tomorrow.
In addition to identifying upcoming service interruptions and opportunities for customer rewards, future planning also monitors what will happen with Zambezi and other competitors. This level of insight is not available anywhere else because of Paradocx’s hold on a proprietary fixed point in spacetime.

Pause for Accuracy:

Customer expectations are off the charts. Packaging and/or shipping deadlines are bearing down. You’ve already used your monthly allotment of timeline corrections. Is there anything else you can do to accelerate response time?

Engage pause for accuracy, an up-to-72-minute dimensional freeze-frame in which you can still move around freely. Seems like a paradox. We thought so too until we accidentally developed it 7,000 years from now.

Data Security:

Customer data is the lifeblood of your business at ACME. Without pinpoint accurate location coordinates, payment information, and certification data at your fingertips, your deliveries are at risk.
We recognize how vital your data is and want to assure you that we’ve taken measures to keep it secure now, in the past, and in the future. And if there is a catastrophic breach? We’ll perform a timeline correction (at no extra cost) to fix it. Our security protocols meet the following standards:

  • SOC II
  • GDPR
  • ISO 27001

System Uptime:

At ACME, the shipping and packaging processes are mission-critical to your end-to-end services, so your chosen solution needs to recognize that fact. Paradocx is as reliable as it is secure.

Our Time Travel SaaS Platform is 100% cloud-based with redundancy provided by ultra-reliable Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosting infrastructure.

In fact, Paradocx has achieved 99.98% uptime since our inception, and we considered deploying timeline correction to bring it to 100%. However, future planning indicated doing so increased the possibility of an event horizon forming in the Southern Ocean if we had. Barring the possibility that doing so may end existence as we know it (in which case our services are moot), you can be confident that Paradocx will always be up when you need it.

“E” of NOSE: Providing evidence of your solution’s validity

Why should ACME partner with Paradocx?

We completely understand that ACME has a choice of vendors with whom you will partner. So, with several outwardly similar solutions on the marketplace to choose from, why should ACME select Paradocx?

ACME asked us to explain clearly how we are different from our competitors. While there are many differences between us and our competitors, we’ll highlight the four that are most relevant to ACME’s needs.

ACME’s Key Differentiators

We’re all still here

Paradocx is the only time travel software provider that has been used by our competitors to save existence from annihilation. The physics and mathematics driving our software development actually enable time travel capabilities for all our competitors. We invented it and made it openly available to the world.

Results are guaranteed

We’re not the largest, most valuable corporation in the world for nothing. Time is every company’s most valuable asset. What you do with it determines your success. It just so happens that we control it.

User-friendly, low-risk interface

All animations, binary songs, and gravitation wave rhythms are maneuverable through our proprietary touchscreen interface. Unlike competitive solutions that rely on messages in bottles and subliminal messaging through high-frequency radio waves, our insights come through loud and clear. And no timeline corrections can be made without judgement from the World Time Panel.

Only provider with privacy promise

Paradocx searches across time with full encryption with no need to rely on disguises to avoid butterfly effect events. At no time will any customer know that you peeked back or forward at them. Deja vu was eliminated with our 2.0 upgrade in 2019.

What Paradocx’s Customers Are Saying…

Paradocx is consistently the highest-rated solution in the market. But don’t just take our word for it. Here are some soundbites provided by three Paradocx customers.

Daffy’s Duck & Cover

“My company never used to get the respect it deserved. Online sales almost cost us our business. Thanks to Paradocx, we’re now the biggest sporting good retailer in all of hill country.”
Daffy Duck, CEO, Duck & Cover

Birdswing Emporium

“Many of our customers were placed in dangerous areas, at risk of attack or illness from the elements. Paradocx helped us reset some timelines that were real life savers.”
Tweety, VP Product Development, Birdswing Emporium

A Small World

“We somehow ended up in the wrong universe! Paradocx reversed the mistakes made by one of its competitors and rescued me, our IP, and, ultimately, our business. Oh boy!”
M. Mouse, CTO, A Small World

ROI

Based on ACME’s expected outcomes, the unlimited user pricing model that is optimal for your business, and the fact that we will perform a timeline correction for any time required for onboarding, we created the following ROI estimates.

Day 30: 10% ROI

Day 90: 50% ROI

Year 2: 248% ROI

We came to these numbers using our ROI calculator, which includes the following factors:

  • Avg. price per Rube Goldberg device
  • Avg. margin for shipping and packaging costs
  • Estimated customer churn reduced to 3% by day 90
  • Year-over-year increase in subscription rate f 7.3%

Paradocx Overview

Why choose Paradocx to help you with this important business initiative? Founded so far in the future that you don’t need to worry about it, we brought this technology back to 21st century earth through an Einstein-Rosen bridge to make a difference in how humans work, live, and play. Our platform has been designed and built from the ground-up by an extremely experienced and talented team of individuals who understand firsthand the demands of conducting business in linear time.

We are a financially strong, vibrant business, backed by unlimited financial resources and control of time. As the market leader, we provide time travel services to more than half of the Fortune 100.

We are consistently the highest-rated vendor on independent review sites such as TARDIS. We are the only time travel software endorsed by MIT and NASA.

ACME Customers

Paradocx provides services to more than half of the Fortune 100, nearly two-thirds of the Comprend Global 100, more than three-quarters of Forbes Global 2000, and a fruit farm in southwest Idaho.

Conclusion: Sign off with a thank you

Conclusion

Once again, thank you for considering Paradocx as a partner for ACME relative to your time travel software needs.

In conclusion, everyone at Paradocx is excited at the prospect of working with ACME, and eagerly anticipating welcoming you to the fast-growing list of Paradocx customers. We will work extremely hard to build a strong, long-term partnership focused on helping you achieve your customer churn and subscription objectives and exceed your expectations at every point along the way.

Next Steps

Download the complete executive summary example here. These templates will be a huge time saver for you moving forward. It takes a little longer to write the first one, but you’ll be able to rattle off those that follow in no time.

To learn more about the value of templates in RFPIO’s workflow, schedule a demo now. You can also see how Genpact’s bid team uses RFPIO® LookUp to download templates directly from their Answer Library in this article.

Your personal guide to writing a winning executive summary

Your personal guide to writing a winning executive summary

Your executive summary is the most important part your RFP response. That’s right, it’s not the technical sections or competitor differentiators. It’s the executive summary.

Think about it. Your executive summary is the first company info anyone reads after they skim the cover letter—and it might be the last. It’s like the book cover of your RFP, and like a book, it will be judged.

Recently the RFPIO team checked out APMP’s on-demand webinar, Making it Count: The Effective Executive Summary. It was an eye-opening presentation by Dick Eassom, Vice President at SM&A and past APMP CEO, which made us rethink our own strategy with RFP response.

Today we’re going to share a few takeaways from the APMP webinar. Whether you’ve been around RFP response for a while—or you’re just taking the proposal reins at your organization—this is a rundown on what you need to know about executive summaries to win more opportunities.

What is an executive summary?

An executive summary is a short section that gives a quick overview of important information. In the context of an RFP, an executive summary addresses the prospect’s problem, the prospect’s desired business outcomes, and the vendor’s recommendation for solving the problem and achieving the outcome.

The executive summary is designed to help a prospect decide whether or not to move forward with the proposal—and so it’s critical you get it right.

Why spend time writing an executive summary?

To pull together an RFP response, we know it takes a grand effort by any sized team. The turnaround for RFPs is typically a quick one, so it’s common for businesses to cut corners to save time…especially when that deadline is Friday and you can’t bear to work another weekend.

Dick Eassom shared a great analogy in the APMP webinar that can help us relate to the importance of the executive summary in our RFPs. He said this:

“If you’re buying something, like a service for your house, you’re not necessarily going to pick by price. You’re going to pick the contractor that has the lowest risk—that will get the job done well and on time.”

The executive summary is an opportunity to show our organization in the best light, to demonstrate that we understand our customer’s problems and that we can solve them. It is also a way to highlight how we are better than our competitors, which is not normally something we would discuss in public or social media.

good executive summary

To summarize an executive summary, it’s our offer to the decision makers. The best executive summaries get to the point without the fluff, while speaking effectively to the buyer’s needs.

Which team members write the executive summary?

There is a “should” and a “will” when it comes to RFP response management. Meaning, there are certain team members who should handle the executive summary, but the reality is that the proposal manager will probably end up leading it.

Ideally business development and sales teams should own the executive summary and be supported by SMEs, proposal teams, and senior executives. Due to the hectic schedules of sales—and the deprioritization of RFPs—this task will often be pushed off until the last minute or skipped altogether.

executive summary tips
Fortunately, all is not lost if you are the spirited proposal manager that ends up taking ownership of the executive summary. If you manage your RFP responses with a software solution, you can easily assign the sections to your team in the order you need them completed.

rfp review process
Your process for the executive summary will look similar to other sections of your RFP response:

  1. Proposal Manager – provides project clarification and involves necessary team members
  2. Sales/Business Development – writes the first draft after understanding the project needs
  3. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) – offers expertise and adds value to the response
  4. Marketing – polishes content and ensures messaging is aligned with the organization
  5. Senior Executives – gives final review and sign off

When is the best time to write the executive summary?

Commonly the executive summary falls victim to the rushed deadline that comes into play with RFP response. Many organizations will put off the summary until the very end, either because they prioritized other sections or it slipped through the cracks when nobody took ownership.

However, in the APMP webinar, Dick Eassom had a different timing strategy for completing the executive summary. It shouldn’t be the last thing you’re writing, it should be the first—right after you have developed a win strategy as a team.

request for proposal content

The biggest issue with tacking on the executive summary long after completing the other RFP sections is that you will lose a lot of the impact. An executive summary should be the guiding light for your proposal that shapes other sections in your RFP response—not the other way around.

It deserves time and attention, rather than being an afterthought. By prioritizing the executive summary in your process, you’ll build a foundation than anchors the rest of your RFP and makes it stronger.

How long should an executive summary be?

Summary is the key word here. The executive summary needs to be concise and engaging, something that resonates with your audience without being lengthy or repetitive. This is another reason why rushing this part of your RFP response just won’t do.

How do you write a winning executive summary?

You’re trying to win the hearts of your prospects to win a new business. They will notice when something is thrown together, and they will walk away. Spend time developing a win strategy to align your team, then you can define a win theme that answers the question they’re really asking: What’s in it for me?

win themes rfps

Here are some important things to keep in mind to optimize your executive summary:

  • Be relevant to your audience: Personalized messaging is more impactful than a boilerplate version you reuse with every RFP.
  • Know your differentiators: Specify benefits that are appealing to that company alone, versus a features checklist that can be found on your website.
  • Back up your claims: Answer the “so what?” with data that proves the benefits, and skip blanket statements and fabricated metrics that will discredit you.
  • Use simple language: Speak with a clear, relatable tone in your responses that is free from overused jargon or techy lingo that nobody understands.
  • Follow instructions: Give only what is asked of you—no more, no less—to show that you cared enough to listen, and that you’ll be a better long-term partner because of that.

The executive summary has many moving parts. With improved team collaboration, you have the power to rise above the inefficiencies at your company. As with any RFP response, having a solid process in place will save your team time and help you create a higher quality response with more winning potential.

Hit the pause button and rethink your executive summary approach as something that deserves to be prioritized. Try completing it first and see if treating it as the guiding light makes your entire RFP more effective.

Pssst…here’s an RFP executive summary example to help you land your next deal.

How to write executive summary

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