The most important part of every sales proposal is the executive summary-but many people in sales get it completely wrong.

Some sellers wrongly believe that the executive summary should summarize the contents of the proposal. As a result, they write the executive summary last, after all the information has been gathered into the body of the proposal.

That's really dumb, because an executive summary is not supposed to summarize the proposal; it's supposed to summarize the reasons why the customer should buy from you. The executive summary should therefore focus on basic issues and bottom-line results-and it should be written first, in order to set the tone and direction of the body of the proposal.

Here's how to structure it.

Part 1: The Problem (or Need, or Goal)

Demonstrate, in one or two sentences, your understanding of the customer's business situation. The definition of the problem/need/goal should be more than a paraphrase of the customer's original requirements. Instead, it should reflect the results of your research into the customer's situation and should show that you understand their business.


  • "You have identified a $5 million shortfall in revenue due to lost inventory."
  • "You are seeking to grow your consultancy by 50% a year for the next three years."

Part 2: Expected Outcome

Describe, again in one or two sentences, the potential positive impact on the customer's organization if the problem is solved, the need is fulfilled, or the goal is achieved. Note: This is not a discussion of your solution's features and benefits. Rather, the focus is on the organization and the gains it will achieve from implementing your solution.


  • "When problem A is solved, you will have 50% less downtime. "
  • "Achieving goal B will allow you to open your products to new markets."

The executive summary must address client-desired outcomes to create a strong desire to move forward on the part of the decision maker. Focusing on the customer's need gets a prospect's attention-that was Part 1-but focusing on the payoff sets you up for the commitment.

Part 3: Solution Overview

Provide, with as little jargon as possible, a brief overview of the solution that's being proposed. Ideally, each element of the solution should tie back to one of the customer's problems or needs and to one of the desired outcomes.


  • "We are proposing A because it solves the problem of  ..."
  • "We are proposing B because it provides the following value to your firm ..."

Part 4: Evidence

Provide a brief (and I do mean brief) mention of why you are capable of delivering the solution on time and on budget. You can use quotes from clients, accolades, awards, and so forth.

Part 5: Call to Action

Here's where you ask for the business. This can be something as simple as "We're eager to work with you." In asking for the business, mention one or two key factors that differentiate you as a vendor and make you the right company for the client to choose.

Notice that the executive summary does not start by giving your company history or an overview of your product line. The initial focus must be on the customer's own need. In fact, the name of the customer should appear two or three times as frequently as the name of the vendor.

One final, but important, note: Avoid putting costs in the executive summary unless the customer has specifically requested that the price be mentioned there. Instead, use the executive summary to make your first presentation of a compelling value proposition--increased productivity, reduced operating costs, increased market penetration, lower total cost of ownership, or some other important measure of gain.

Emphasizing what you can do for the customer and what's unique about your solution creates a perception of value that can raise your proposal above the rest, even if other solutions might cost less.

I'm going to provide an example of an executive summary in the next issue of my free weekly newsletter.  

The above is adapted a discussion with proposal guru Tom Sant.  A longer version is available in my recently published new book, How to Say It: Business to Business Selling.