The first page is important, because either it leads the reader into the story or it makes him close the book and put it aside. A writer I know told me he did not mind spending ten days on a first page. I would be blind on it in ten days, but I have done three versions in one day, and if I am still discontent, I go to page two with an idea of looking at the first page again the next day.Patricia Highsmith – Author of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Strangers on a Train.”
As a bid writer you’re not penning ground-breaking works of art that will be read by millions the world over, but your words may make millions for your company.
The Curtain Raiser
Mars, The Bringer of War is the first movement of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Composed in 1914, it’s a majestic, sweeping and doom-laden piece that builds and then comes at you in waves. Play it loud enough, and it can feel as if you are being attacked by an animal. It’s magnificent. It’s one of the most popular and recognisable pieces of classical music. It has been ripped off by a multitude of heavy metal bands, and the composer John Williams used it as an inspiration for The Imperial March in his soundtrack to Star Wars.
Gimme Shelter, Come Together, Like a Rolling Stone, Whole Lotta Love, Astronomy Domine, Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black). Google those songs for fun, but if you know your rock ‘n’ roll you’ll know that they are the opening tracks for some of the most influential albums. Each song is a classic and it’s doubtful that their parent albums would have achieved their iconic status without them.
A Good First Impression
First impressions last, so like Holst, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Neil Young, make sure it’s a very good one.
Though marks aren’t awarded for executive summaries, they are easily the most important piece of writing in an entire submission. It’s your chance to quickly show the client that you understand their needs, how you are going to address them, and why you are the right organisation to do so. It may be the only chance you get to tell a cohesive story about your solution, as the format of the RFP may be poorly assembled, leaving no opportunity for a clear explanation.
Use the Executive Summary to Sell
Use your executive summary to sell your services. Don’t clog it up with rubbish about your company history, how brilliant your executives are and how happy you are to do business with the buying organisation. The buyer doesn’t care about you, your heritage and your spanking new offices. They only care about what you can do for them.
Buyers often use an executive summary as a preliminary screening technique. So an ideal executive summary should set out the major strengths of your solution and its unique features and benefits.
It may also be the only piece of the document that a buying CEO and his executive team read. If they like what they see, they’ll take a keen interest in your progress – they may even make it known which response they favour to the assessment team.
When to Write One?
There is no set rule as to when to write one. I prefer to write a first draft as early as possible –this is usually once I have a clear view of the actual solution. I then revise it until it is time to complete the document.
Who should write it?
The person who has the best grasp of what is being offered as well as the best relationship with the client should write the first draft. The best writer on the team should then fine tune it to ensure that it reads well and that the content is relevant.
How long should it be?
Unless the RFP instructions indicate otherwise there’s no prescriptive length for an executive summary, but try to keep it to a minimum of two to three pages – any more and it’s hardly a summary.
Executive Summary Structure
What are the key components of an executive summary? Structure it using the headings below.
1. Client Concerns
If you have been diligent in building a close relationship with the buyer you will have assembled a profile that includes his or her likes, dislikes, and needs for the solution that you are bidding for. You will also be able to identify the more obvious needs and concerns that are explicitly stated in the document. Pick out the most important of these and replay them to the buyer and his assessment team in the executive summary.
2. Solution Summary
Provide a succinct overview of the people, processes, technology, and engagement model. Drive home how it is going to address the client’s needs and in a way that is unique to your organisation. You don’t want to provide a “me too” type solution. Leave that to your competitors.
If possible, show a clear and clean cut price that makes sense in the context of the summary you’ve just described.
In this section provide the evidence that you can deliver what is being asked of you. Refer to your expertise, methodologies and any unique selling points or distinct advantages that you have as a company. Also refer to contracts where you have implemented similar solutions, and if appropriate give an update on their progress.
5. Next Steps
This is a brief concluding paragraph that shows that you have a plan for what comes next and that you are ready to flick the switch and mobilise.