We ran a poll on LinkedIn this week asking at what point bid professionals write their Executive Summaries. The options were: before the RFP is released, after the RFP is released but prior to the bid kick off, when the bid draft is 90% or fully completed, or at another point (inviting comments). There were 127 votes, and the results made for interesting reading!
The majority (65%) said they write the Exec Summary when the bid draft is almost or fully complete. A combined 24% said it was either before or just after the RFP release – either way, before any “full on” bid work has commenced. For those respondents who said it was at another point (10%), some insightful comments were shared:
- After bid launch, while the strategy is evolving.
- Ideally during and after first draft is finished…[it] should be written by the person directly in contact with the customer.
- Before, then again on receipt of tender and again at 90% / red review…you always discover something throughout the process.
- Before the first technical review.
- After the Pink Team review, when I have a full sense of all the challenges of the project.
Although almost two-thirds of respondents said they write the Exec Summary towards the end of the process, best practice is actually to write the Exec Summary before the RFP is released, or as early as possible in the bid planning stage. Does that surprise those of you who leave it until the end?
According to the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) “a draft executive summary should be developed early during the opportunity/capture planning phase. It provides a roadmap for the rest of the opportunity/capture plan.” The BOK suggests the Exec Summary should be drafted by (and owned throughout the process by) the Opportunity Manager*, since they are often closest to the customer – as suggested by one of the responses in our poll. It should be part of the ‘pack’ brought to bid decision gate reviews and the bid kick-off, and used to gain senior internal approval for the bid approach.
The timing does make sense. Even at this early stage, you should already know the main benefits and USPs of your solution versus your competitors; and you should know the customer well enough to understand how your solution provides real benefit to them. Of course, there are always those ‘take a punt’ bids you may not have fully prepared for. There may be slight differences between customers in different sectors or those with truly specific requirements; but even then, you should understand your solution well enough to quickly document the benefits and value, and determine whether the opportunity is worth pursuing. The BOK goes further “If you’re not prepared to write the executive summary early, you probably aren’t ready to bid and should consider a no-bid.”
The Exec Summary should, as set out in the BOK and in some of our received comments, drive your bid response strategy, not simply summarise your offering. It should set out your understanding of the customer’s challenges (their “hot buttons”), and put forward your value proposition, key win themes and discriminators to convince the customer to choose you, showing how you’ll meet their challenges. It should demonstrate the benefits of choosing your solution, not the technical components of the solution itself.
The Exec Summary should provide a baseline to help your bid team write the response, outlining the key messages and benefits to underpin your solution – ensuring even when different people write different sections, the same messaging is used. That means it should be a concise, persuasive, compelling start to your bid submission – clearly showing the customer evaluator why your solution is the best choice, providing benefits specific to their requirements.
That’s not to say you should write the Exec Summary at the start and forget about it. It should be reviewed when the RFP is issued to take account of any new client requirements, and throughout to ensure the right messages are being conveyed or to take account of any solution changes. As some of our poll respondents commented, you always discover something or learn more about the challenges through the bid process.
If you currently leave the Exec Summary until late in the process, try writing it early and see if the process, and submission, is improved. Or if you even continue to bid.
* In your organisation, the Opportunity Manager might be the Account Manager, Client Relationship Manager, Sales Lead or a BD/Bid Manager.