Proposal Writing – How to Supercharge the Executive Summary


An effective executive summary quickly establishes the problem, shows you understand the client, provides tangible business value, and gives a reason to keep reading. Keep it high-level and client-focused.

To write a compelling executive summary:

Orient around the client’s needs, demonstrate you understand their pains; lead with an attention-grabbing opening statistic or statement; focus on high-level benefits over features; quantify value with metrics when possible.

Download – Business Proposal Template

Executive Summary guidelines

Getting Started

You get one chance to make a first impression.

For that reason, approach the Executive Summary as a standalone document, and give it the importance it deserves.

If the reader isn’t motivated to turn the page… everything that follows goes to waste. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked on budget, financials, CVs, appendices, if they don’t turn that page, it’ll never get read. So, we want to avoid this, right?

Use the following to improve your executive summary:

Features v Benefits

Focus on high-level benefits rather than features. Don’t get too technical or go into minute product details. Keep the focus on explaining how your solution will solve the client’s problem or fill their needs at a big picture level.

Here’s an example of how not to write the benefits versus how to effectively write it:

Not Effective:

– Our web-enabled software has an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that makes it super easy to use. It includes customizable dashboards, pre-built templates, and collaboration tools. The data analytics module provides real-time insights through advanced AI.

This sounds generic. It could apply to lots of software products. Instead of focusing on any measurable benefits, it lists features. It fails to address how this will resolve the client’s needs. Jargon and buzzwords need to be deleted. The value is unclear.

Effective Version: 

– By implementing our software, your Proposal Bid team will be able to create high-quality proposals in under 60 minutes. The data analytics provide real-time insight into proposal effectiveness, allowing you to fine-tune your strategy and increase win rates by 15-20%. The software enhances collaboration and knowledge sharing among your teams, getting new hires productive in just 2 weeks.

This highlights the tangible benefits the client will gain – shorter proposal time, increased win rates, improved productivity. It quantifies the benefits with metrics. Notice how it focuses on how it solves the client problems rather than just listing software capabilities.

Suggestion. As a proposal writer, put yourself in your client’s shoes and explain how your solution positively impacts their business, rather than stating what features the software offers.

Focus relentless on delivering value.

Opening Statement

Lead with a powerful opening statement that grabs attention. Some options for strong openings: Relevant statistic that demonstrates the problem, example of the issue’s impact, testimonial highlighting struggles, or compelling statement of what you can accomplish.

Here’s three examples:

– “Last year, your company spent $625,000 in procurement bidding costs due to poor supplier retention rates. With our supplier relationship management solution, we can help you reduce rebidding costs by 37%.”

– “Inefficient inventory management cost your business $2.1 million last quarter in unnecessary inventory and obsolete stock. Using our analytics platform, we can optimize your supply chain to decrease excess inventory by 73%.”

– “775% of your customer churn last year was due to poor customer experiences and support issues. By implementing our Customer Success solution, you can cut churn rates by 65% and recover $725K in recurring revenue.”

Notice that if you lead with a compelling statistic or statement it immediately establishes the problem, grabs the reader’s attention. It positions your solution as the antidote to their pain point and set the stage for how you’ll provide value.

Pain Points

Address the client’s most pressing pains and challenges. Demonstrate how you understand their unique situation, frustrations, and objectives. Show the problems you’ll target.

Competitive advantage

Emphasize the value and competitive advantage your solution provides.

Quantify benefits with metrics and data when possible to make them more tangible.

Here are three examples:

– “Our CRM solution will reduce your inventory costs by $2.1 million annually. This represents a 72% decrease in excess inventory expenses.”

– “By streamlining your claims processing with our technology, you can lower your claim resolution time by 37%, from an average of 15 days to 9 days. This will enable you to take on 23% more claims per month.”

– “Our cybersecurity training has been proven to reduce phishing click-through rates in companies by 65%. With 1,250 employees, this means you will avoid approximately 17 security breaches next year through better employee awareness.”

Use measurable metrics – % reductions or increases, dollar amounts, time savings, etc. – and tie the benefit directly to a tangible impact on the client’s business. This shows concrete value over generic claims.

Concise Language

Use simple language that is easy to digest. Avoid overused jargon and technical terms. Write for a broad executive audience who may not be experts in your field.

Also, remember that some of the readers may not be native language speakers. This doesn’t mean you have to ‘dumb down’ your writing, rather strive for clarity instead.  

Page Length

Keep it to 1 page in length or shorter. Executives are extremely busy and appreciate brevity. Stick to only the most vital information. Make it ‘skim-able.’

Financial Benefits

Highlight financial benefits and return on investment. Use specific dollar amounts, percentages, or other quantifiable metrics to showcase monetary impact.

Call to action

Close with a call to action. Provide 1-2 recommended next steps the client should take to move forward with your solution. This can be as simple as arranging a demo or sending over sample material.

Executive Summary Structure

Follow the established executive summary template structure: Opening, problem/needs statement, your solution, benefits/ROI, closing call to action.

In addition, let the key sections stand out visually with spacing, headings, and bullet points for easy skimming by executives.

Make sure the tone matches your brand voice – be confident but not salesy. Reflect your brand’s personality.

Proof the final document, one more time…

Have multiple people proofread to catch errors or statements that are unclear, exaggerated, or open to interpretation.

10 Writing Mistakes to Avoid

The following are easy to overlook when writing an executive summary:

  1. Client perspective – Forgetting to put yourself in the client’s shoes and focus on their needs first rather than promoting your product features.
  2. Quantification – Not including enough measurable results, statistics, percentages, or dollar amounts to concretely demonstrate value.
  3. Length – Making it too long. Keep it concise, high-level, and skimmable.
  4. Jargon – Using too much confusing technical jargon rather than simple, direct language.
  5. Customization – Neglecting to tailor it specifically for the client versus just a generic summary.
  6. Impact – Failing to address the client’s most pressing problems, pains, and challenges.
  7. ROI – Not highlighting financial benefits, return on investment, and how the solution will save or make money for the client.
  8. Call to Action – Forgetting a clear recommendation for next steps the client should take.
  9. Tone – Making it sound salesy rather than professional, confident and consulting-focused.
  10. Presentation – Overlooking design, formatting, spacing, and visuals.


Approach the executive summary as if it were a separate document. Think of it as the sales pitch for the proposal. Refine the text so it’s very clear to the reader how they will benefit – and in ways they can measure – so they feel compelled to turn the page… and read the rest of the document.

Finally, actively seek feedback. Don’t ask if they liked it. Instead, ask how could it be improved? Where could it be strengthened?   

Recommended Reading

You can never have enough good business writing books. Here’s three I’ve found very helpful.