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RFP cover letter vs. executive summary: Here’s the difference

RFP cover letter vs. executive summary: Here’s the difference

Responding to a request for proposal (RFP) is a standard step in the buying process. With RFP responses, there are […]


Category: Tag: Executive Summary

RFP cover letter vs. executive summary: Here’s the difference

RFP cover letter vs. executive summary: Here’s the difference

Responding to a request for proposal (RFP) is a standard step in the buying process. With RFP responses, there are always opportunities to improve the quality of your content and improve your conversion rates as a result.

90% of successful marketers at B2B companies prioritize the audience’s informational needs over a sales/promotional message. The introduction of an RFP response involves a cover letter and an executive summary—these sections offer golden opportunities to develop content that is laser-focused on your prospect’s needs.

RFP responders commonly use cover letters and executive summaries interchangeably, when they are, in fact, two different sections. Confused about the difference between an RFP cover letter and an executive summary? Not sure if you need both sections? Not sure which section comes first?

Let’s help you fully understand the nuances of the RFP cover letter and the executive summary, so you can get a strong start with your RFP response and improve your organization’s chance of landing the deal.

What is an RFP cover letter?

First up is the RFP cover letter. For positioning on your RFP response, this section should come before your executive summary. A cover letter should be no more than one page in length.

An RFP cover letter is a conversational introduction at the beginning of your RFP response. Similar to a cover letter you submit for a job opportunity, this letter is your chance to tell a little bit about yourself and why you’re the best candidate. It is almost always a requirement of an RFP, even if the issuer does not include a specific section.

The RFP cover letter:

  • States that you are bidding for their business by responding to the RFP.
  • Reiterates details from their RFP (i.e. company name, service/product requested).
  • Explains why your organization is qualified to respond to the RFP.
  • Reveals key benefits they will experience while working with you.
  • Lists anything you are providing in your RFP response.
  • Demonstrates your excitement for the potential partnership.

The RFP cover letter is not:

  • An excuse to jump into a sales-y spiel about your product or service.
  • Formatted with images or headers…it’s a letter with a greeting and sign-off.
  • The time to go into great detail about your strategy or execution.

An RFP cover letter example you can replicate

The goal of your RFP cover letter is to eloquently introduce your organization as the right partner. By the time the issuer reaches the last sentence, they should feel confident about spending their time reading the rest of your RFP responses.

RFP cover letter example:

Hello [first name of RFP issuer]:

I speak on behalf of the entire [RFPIO] team in saying how thrilled we are to have been selected to respond to an RFP to become [Company]’s preferred partner for [Company – service or product need].

We look forward to showing the [Company] team why [RFPIO] is a strategic solution that will address the current and future challenges that [Company] is facing in their [response process]. With [RFPIO] as your partner, we will help:

[Create a more consistent process across international regions.]
[Save your team time to focus on other initiatives.]
[Provide insights into all RFP analytics across your organization.]

Included in this RFP, you will find responses that meet and exceed your requirements along with the [Company – additional materials] you requested. Should you need any other information to move this process forward and further validate your decision, please let us know.

We are grateful for this opportunity with [Company].

Thank you for your time,
Kylie

What is an RFP executive summary?

Next is the RFP executive summary. For positioning on your RFP response, this section should come right after your cover letter. Like a cover letter, an executive summary should be no more than one page in length.

An RFP executive summary is a high-level statement after the cover letter section in an RFP response. This statement is your offer to the decision-makers, a chance to address your buyer’s needs and goals directly. The executive summary is optional, and not a requirement of an RFP.

Providing an executive summary can put your organization at a competitive advantage, giving you more room to explain the benefits of working with you.

The RFP executive summary:

  • Hooks the buyer with an opening statement about your solutions.
  • Explains how your solution benefits the market as a whole.
  • Uses storytelling to convey your company’s mission, history, and purpose.
  • Demonstrates the impact of your solution, including expected results.
  • Includes optional images that support the content.

The RFP executive summary is not:

  • The cliff notes of your entire proposal.
  • Formatted like a letter…it’s a statement.
  • Several pages of client testimonials or stories—stay focused on this prospect.

An RFP executive summary example to follow

Why should this prospect select you as their partner? By the time the RFP issuer is finished reading your executive summary, they should strongly consider the partnership possibilities already before reading the rest of the RFP.

A cover letter tends to be more straightforward, while executive summaries are more complex. Because there was such a demand for executive summary resources for response teams, we created an RFP executive summary template that gives you the building blocks for writing more effective content.

If we take this template and create a real executive summary example, it would look a little something like this…

Executive summary example:

Content is engrained in all of our business processes. RFPIO enhances collaboration and fosters a truly efficient and effective response process with a response management platform that is built to encourage collaboration and create winning responses.

Even in today’s highly technical business environment, 84% of responders are still using a manual process to manage business queries across the organization, which directly impacts resources and the ability to achieve revenue goals. To ensure your organization’s success, our cloud-based software platform is suited for efficiently responding to all types of business proposal documents—RFx (RFP, RFI, etc.), statements of work (SOW), security questionnaires, CAIQ, grants, along with marketing and sales content.

Before founding RFPIO, we were RFP responders that worked overtime to meet deadlines too. This experience led us on a mission to create RFPIO, which is now the leading solution in response management—helping companies streamline their proposal efforts, provide high-quality responses, and create additional revenue opportunities.

We know that for [Company] it’s paramount to improve process consistency and team efficiency, while gaining more insights and visibility into RFP response activities across your organization. With RFPIO as your team’s response management platform, we feel confident that you will be able to achieve your goals within a secure and scalable solution.

We hope this breakdown of the differences between the RFP cover letter and the RFP executive summary helps you create a more compelling intro. When in doubt, think about the RFP issuer’s informational needs…and keep the content short and impactful.

Creating high-quality RFP cover letters and executive summaries is easier with RFPIO. Sign up for a demo to see how it works.

An RFP executive summary example that increases win potential

An RFP executive summary example that increases win potential

Responding to an executive summary is one of the most challenging parts of an RFP, but it’s also one of the factors that will influence your organization’s win potential. Writing an RFP effective executive summary means thinking first and foremost about the words that make up the phrase itself…executive and summary.

The definition of “executive” is:

  1. A person with senior managerial responsibility in a business organization.
  2. The person or branch of a government responsible for putting policies or laws into effect.

The definition of “summary” is:

  1. A brief statement or account of the main points of something.
  2. Dispensing with needless details or formalities; brief.

Put simply, an executive summary for any RFP is executive. The person who reads your response is going to make an executive decision about whether or not they will choose your solution or another. It must be high-level and concise. It must be relevant and worthwhile.

So, how do we do this? How do we craft the best executive summary that ticks all of these boxes? Look no further, RFP responder. Here are some tips to guide you toward creating a stronger response, along with an RFP executive summary example that will increase your win potential.

What’s the difference between a cover letter and an executive summary?

Before we dive into some details, first we have to point out what an executive summary is NOT…a cover letter. This is a confusing part of the RFP response process, so we’ll break it down for you.

Remember the definition of executive? Executive is all about distilling everything down to the most important points. Like a thesis, you’re going to explain your solution in one brilliant piece. Unlike a thesis, brevity is favored and an RFP executive summary is typically one page in length.

An RFP executive summary is not a letter to the organization who issues the RFP. It is high-level content from the executive perspective that covers challenges the issuer is facing, and how your solution will help them overcome those challenges. The executive summary doesn’t talk about the details of the RFP response you’re providing.

On the other hand, a cover letter for an RFP response is similar to any other cover letter. Think of the most common application..applying for a job. You talk about how great you are, right?

Well, with RFP response your cover letter shouldn’t talk about how great you are, because the issuer may not bother with the rest of your responses if you put them off. Your cover letter should be a conversational introduction that mentions you are responding to their RFP because you would love to partner with them, then explain what you are providing in your RFP response.

There is another key difference between a cover letter and an executive summary. A cover letter is almost always required while an executive summary is only sometimes required—and therefore optional in an RFP response.

Being that an executive summary in an RFP can add a lot more value than a cover letter alone, you are correct in thinking that it is worth going the extra mile to stand out among your competitors. The trick is doing it well.

How to write an effective RFP response executive summary

So, what makes an RFP executive summary effective? Here are some quick do’s and don’ts to guide your efforts throughout the RFP response process.

  • Remember the Issuer – The decision-maker reading your executive summary chooses whether or not you are the partner with the answer to their problem. Step out of your shoes and into theirs to address their pain points.
  • State criteria upfront – Your buyer wants their requests to be accommodated. Avoid going rogue by stepping outside their list of requirements. You also don’t want to be too generic—if you repurpose an executive summary, be sure to customize the language.
  • Keep ideas high-level – Brevity is key. Since you don’t have a lot of real estate on a one-pager, skip the nitty-gritty like steps and details. Messaging should be conceptual, but geared toward why your solution is the best choice.
  • Present your solution as the right fit – Clearly state why your product or service is worth the investment. Don’t just say you will accommodate what they want. Show you listened by providing relevant information—not just a list of features and pricing.
  • Review content thoroughly – Don’t go it alone. Too much is at stake with an RFP response. Involve the marketing team, your sales manager, or SMEs (subject matter experts) that will provide feedback to make your executive summary stronger.

“I’m usually on the sales side of an opportunity, but recently I was on a team that purchased software for my company. The vendor that clarified their responses with comments to give context and additional information was the one that we ultimately choose. The extra information they provided made it much easier for us to determine which product was a better fit.” – Elizabeth Duke, Director Presales Support and Operations at Informatica

Here’s an RFP executive summary example to guide you

Length matters with your RFP executive summary—one page is all you need. Revisit the “summary” definition from earlier. The goal is to address the issuer’s challenges and present yourself as the solution in a few short paragraphs.

An exception to this rule would be if you’re responding to a military defense RFP that’s 2,000 pages long. Then, your executive summary will presumably be five pages. For most of us RFP responders, keep it to one page to get your point across without letting the content drag on.

Another thing worth noting is the visual component. An image is a great way to add some flair to your executive summary to stand out among your competitors and pack more of a punch.

From top to bottom, here is an RFP executive summary example you can follow for your next RFP response

An executive summary is a chance to make your organization shine. This RFP executive summary template will help you create more effective content—the other piece of the puzzle is how you leverage technology like RFP software to do it efficiently.

There are many ways RFPIO can help you craft the best executive summary in less time. Schedule a demo to find out more.

How to write a winning executive summary for RFP responses

How to write a winning executive summary for RFP responses

What do you think the most important part of your RFP response is? Right off the bat, you might think it’s the technical sections or competitor differentiators. What if we told you it was actually your 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.

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.

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