5 crucial elements of an executive summary

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5 crucial elements of an executive summary

Any successful and well-structured business proposal or business plan should include an executive summary. This section can take many forms, lengths, and writing styles.

What is an executive summary?

An executive summary is, by its very nature, a summarization of information. Serving as an introduction to a proposal, the executive summary often contains brief statements describing what will be further detailed in the coming proposal. In an average proposal, the executive summary only offers short information in a rote manner. But an outstanding executive summary presents a roundup of the entire proposal in a way which engages the client and works to SELL.

Where does an executive summary go?

Typically, you’ll want to include the executive summary at the beginning of your document. This is because the sole purpose of the executive summary is to provide an overview of the following document — similar to an abstract in an academic paper.

With PandaDoc, you can create a standard executive summary content block and recycle/customize it for all of your proposals and documents going forward.

What should be included in an executive summary?

There are a few key elements that go into the crafting of an intelligent, extraordinary executive summary for a proposal.

Here are five elements that should be included by any keen business person plus our free executive summary template to help you out!

A shining intro paragraph

According to a multitude of internet sources, there is a specific length to which an executive summary should adhere. This is not the case. While an executive summary should not be overly lengthy, it should be a comprehensive statement of the overall proposal.

The executive summary must have a brilliant introductory paragraph. If potential clients only skim your proposal, you want to make sure the first thing they are likely to read is the strongest part of your entire proposal. This intro paragraph should be attention-getting from the start. It is wise to bring in impressive attributes of your company, but be specific as opposed to general. Potential clients will want to see real evidence of demonstrated skills and unique abilities. Use this section to highlight company or employee accolades.

The purpose any proposal, and by extension executive summary, is to sell. Give a quick punch, making a confident sell to the client. This is done by providing a unique approach to the problem/issue/need at hand.

A thoughtful aim to the audience

As you wow your reader with an exciting sell and dramatic intro, you’ll want to think about gearing the proposal and the executive summary specifically to your audience. Even when using a template, a proposal should be tailored to each client’s unique needs and problem.

The executive summary is an ideal place to start aiming thoughtfully at your key audience. Here you can further identify the issue facing the client–such as a need for a new marketing strategy, loss of sales, importance of a redesigned website, etc. Once this problem has been identified, offer well-researched, substantiated information about this problem. Facts, figures, and relevant details are important to the client and will help set you up as an expert who knows a great deal about their company’s specific issues.

After the problem has been named, continue the company-focused aim by showing how your proposed solution will be a success. An excellent method is to present facts concerning issues, followed quickly by practical yet unique solutions that are designed particularly for the client.

An identifiable goal

It is vital that a potential client sees just what it is you and your company can do for them. While solutions and methods are a key part of your executive summary and the proposal in general, what matters most to clients is what the results of these solutions will be. Demonstrate to your client what great returns they will get from your proposal. Again, citing figures generated from strong, client-specific research is the key to success here.

Don’t be too general when offering up solutions and results, however. Simply telling your client that your methods will “increase sales” is not good enough. Utilize market research and projections as well as examples of past success, and give descriptive and attractive probable outcomes. Clients love to see what gains your work will bring them, and thorough research is so important in exploring and determining what these gains will be.

An avoidance of sweeping generalizations or false information

An easy trap to fall into when creating an executive summary, or any part of a proposal, is to speak with sweeping generalizations or cliched statements. This should absolutely be avoided as these repetitive and oft-heard ideas have the effect of lumping you alongside your sub-par competitors. Standing out involves offering unique and valuable information to your client. Honest appraisals and truthful promises are what sell, not overused, recycled ideas and hollow claims.

It is important to review your executive summary–and your complete business proposal–repeatedly, rewriting and polishing to come up with a creative, professional piece of work that you will be proud and excited to share with potential clients.

Attention to detail

Following closely on that last element, attention to detail is paramount throughout the entire executive summary. Nothing ruins the hard work on a proposal more than sloppy attention to detail. Silly mistakes can and must be avoided. Your goal is to be the most successful company to submit a proposal to your potential client. Even the playing field by checking and rechecking for any errors. This is a basic element for success. Once this is in place, you can add the elements above to go above and beyond, and hopefully land that next business deal.

Use a template to get it done more quickly!

PandaDoc offers you many, many free business templates created by our trusty team of successful accountants, lawyers, and small business owners who use these documents every day. What kind of templates can help you with how to write an executive summary?

How to write an executive summary

Curious about how to craft an executive summary for your specific document? Here are some common use cases and how to approach them…

How to write an executive summary for a business plan?

When you’re developing a business plan, investors or other stakeholders will often want to see an executive summary at the beginning to get the 30,000 ft overview of the plan. You’ll want to distill the entire plan down into a few paragraphs of concrete summarization, supported by contextual information that’s important to understanding the proposed idea.

How to write an executive summary for a marketing proposal?

The goal of a marketing proposal is to help the prospective client to understand not only what marketing tactics you’ll employ and how much your services will cost but how the bigger picture will work. This is what you should talk about in your executive summary for a marketing proposal: what outcomes should the client expect and what will it be like to work with you?

How to write an executive summary for a business case?

Case studies are all the rage in marketing and sales content. One of the key elements is to include an executive summary section at the beginning that can help set the stage for the reader. So, start your case study executive summary with some contextual information about what who the client is, what problem they were looking to solve and what led them to choose your business. Then, you can dive into the body of the case study’s narrative about how you solved their problem.

How to write an executive summary for a report?

Another common use case for the executive summary is to include it as a preface to a report document. It’ll offer the reader perspective as to how the following report and information impact the larger business case. So, arm the reader with a summary of the report’s objective, methodology, and findings so that she doesn’t need to connect the dots as she is reading the full report.

That should cover everything you ever needed to know about executive summaries. If you’re interested in learning more about how PandaDoc can help simplify, streamline, and supercharge your document workflow, take a peek at our features here.

Originally published June 20 2013, updated December 22 2017

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