If proposal responses are like dating, then the Executive Summary is that first glance across a crowded room. This is where your organization makes the crucial first impression. In seven seconds or less.
So how can you make them like you? How do you stand out in a room full of hotties? And why did you pick that shirt?
If you are lucky, your date (the issuer of the proposal) will give you a few hints as to how to impress them, but often they are generalized: The Offeror shall condense and highlight the contents of the technical proposal and demonstrate and understanding of our objectives and goals. Ummm, alrighty then…
In any case, your objective is clear: you must dazzle and delight. So here are a few dating tips from an old pro to ensure that you do just that.
1) Find out as much as you possible can about the other person(s) before you write. The actual proposal, if your lucky, tells you only half the story. You need to find out the other half. What is motivating the offeror, are there politics and budget issues driving the proposal (that aren’t mentioned in the proposal), and what types of folks will be evaluating the proposal? Make sure your communication style in these first few pages strikes the right tone.
2) Be natural in your approach. Nothing drives me more nuts than when my clients write in stilted, corporate-speak. Write like you would talk to someone you just met. Read your stuff out loud as you edit. Would you really say this to someone? “I offer a robust, holistic, next-generation approach to… No? Then rewrite it the way you would say it in the real world.
3) Focus on them. Nothing worse than someone who goes on and on about themselves. Yes it’s a proposal and you are supposed to sell your organization, but it’s not about you – it’s about them. So make sure you lead with benefits – not just prattle on about all of your unique features. Make sure they get the impression that you listen more than you talk. Get them excited about turning the page.
4) Don’t show off. Braggarts are boring. You may very well be the nations leading purveyor of awesomeness, but your date would like to draw his/her own conclusions – thank you. Sprinkle the Yay-Me’s! evenly across the proposal. But be careful. Third-party validation of your fabulousness score more points. If you are the only one saying how great you are, you run the risk of an authenticity fail.
5) Make the first interaction count. To make sure you are on the right track with your message – put in a little extra thought and preparation. Have someone outside the organization read and evaluate your introduction. This is akin to having a trusted pal weigh-in on whether your outfit works. Trust me. I’ve had plenty of experience is having to tell a client that their butt does look too big in those jeans. (Translation: You come off as full of yourself and you’ve haven’t paid enough attention to your perspective client).
Can you overcome a weak Executive Summary? Certainly, but why take the chance? First impressions count. If you don’t make a great one, the rest of your proposal faces an uphill battle and you may not get that second date.