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How to Create Customized Competitive Win Themes for your Next Proposal

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When you submit a proposal, you are presenting your story. You want your story to express solutions that matter to the customer, and address the customer’s concerns better than your competitors’ stories.

Your win themes are the basis of your proposal and help communicate your story to the evaluators. Your story should be easy to understand, be consistent, and persuade the evaluators that your team is not simply the best team for the contract, but that your team is the only team for the contact.

Win themes are not one size fits all. While there is value in reviewing well-constructed win themes from previous proposals for format and example, you cannot recycle win themes. Win themes are developed for a specific customer with a specific concern or issue. They provide guidance for the writers and should be developed during the capture phase of the BD lifecycle – long before writers begin creating narrative content.

When you conduct a Black Hat Review, you identify and collect most of the data you need to develop customized, compelling win themes. Your management team, technical experts, capture managers, and proposal managers can use this data to develop win themes that are meaningful to your customer.

Strategy Consensus

To gain consensus, you should review customer concerns, features, and benefits using a team approach to get various points of view. There is strength in a process that solicits multiple opinions, vets those opinions, and arrives at a team consensus. Since company management is responsible for financial, management, and technical performance of the contract, you will need their support and approval of the proposal’s strategy. It is not a good practice to wait until Pink Team Review or Red Team Review to validate strategies with company management. Include the company decision maker(s) in the strategy process or validate strategies after they are developed by the team. You can modify strategies based on management inputs, and then finalize the strategies.

Your entire proposal will revolve around the strategies you develop and the win themes they inspire. It is critically important that your team understands and agrees with the strategy. This will make the proposal much easier to write, and ensure that your strategy does not change during the Pink Team or Red Team Review. Pink Team will validate the deployment of your strategy and verify compliance with the proposal outline and draft RFP.

You may refine strategies to address modifications to the RFP, but you should not change your strategy, unless the RFP or customer interactions necessitate a change.

If you must change a strategy, go back to a team approach and follow the process to ensure new strategies receive the same vetting as initial strategies.


Organize the Data

You will be using a lot of data points to develop win themes, so decide how to organize the data. Make sure it is easy to read, rearrange, and edit the data. A Microsoft Word table, Excel workbook, or a software tool that facilitates win theme development is a good option.

If you use a tabular format, you will quickly identify gaps that indicate additional information to be gathered. Pull information from the Black Hat to create a consolidated workspace for win theme development. The example table below can be used to collect and organize data. The win theme column is developed AFTER you compile data in the other columns.

Win Themes 2


Identify the Decision Makers

If these issues were not thoroughly addressed in the Black Hat, gather this information first:

  • Who are the decision-makers and what are their hot buttons?
  • What are the characteristics of the evaluators? Here are some characteristics that will be beneficial to know:
    • forward thinking
    • proactive
    • analytical
    • reactive
    • hands-off
    • detail oriented
    • only wants to know the bottom line
    • does not sweat the details


Identify the Customer Concerns

  • What are the top-level needs, challenges, concerns, known risks, and problems on this contract?
  • What are their top issues/concerns when selecting a contractor?
  • Is there anything going badly now that they need to fix?
  • What is their strategic mission?
  • Are they biased for or against something or some company?

If you cannot identify concerns or needs, you cannot develop win themes.


Develop Solutions Based on Features

  • Order concerns by priority or importance to the customer.
  • Start with the most important and identify a solution for each concern.
  • Link a feature to every concern.
  • Develop innovations and new ideas. If you do not have solution for a concern, you can research, brainstorm with team, and talk with the customer to find one.


Identify the Benefit of Each Feature

  • A benefit is something the customer values. Benefits must be specific, not generic.
  • Identify a benefit to the customer for every feature. Think ‘how’ it helps the customer perform its mission, and how it addresses its concerns.

Customers buy benefits, not features.


Substantiate Features & Benefits

  • Substantiate your ability to deliver the solution with facts and statistics.
  • Do not overemphasize your incumbency, if applicable.
  • Use proven past performance to show depth of expertise.
  • Focus on showing results of your work.

Link the Benefit and Feature with quantifiable and verifiable proof discriminator and substantiating metrics).


Discriminate Yourself from the Competition 

Discriminators are the elements of your proposal that set you apart from your competitors. Look for features and ideas that every company cannot claim. A discriminator may also ghost a competitor or reveal a competitor weakness. Every win theme does not need to be a discriminator.


Put it all Together

After your win theme table is complete, use the win theme column (in the example table above) to develop a draft win theme sentence for each customer concern.

State the benefit of your feature, and the proof point. Placing the customer benefit first will improve the customer focus of your win theme. If you have noted an entry as a discriminator, add words to demonstrate this information. For example, “no other company can …”, or “Acme is the only company that provides …”. Review and revise the win theme to make it as clear and concise as possible, and incorporate edits from the team before finalizing the themes.

Win themes provide structure and guidance for the proposal writers and drive the creation of win strategies are specifically developed for the customer’s concerns. The process of vetting potential team members incorporates differing opinions and helps you find specific solutions and benefits that make your proposal the one to beat.

A win theme template is included in our Proposal Management Toolkit, which helps Proposal Managers master the skills they need to be successful. It also includes a team proposal graphic, technical approach format, and past performance examples. Download the toolkit and create proposals that are easy to understand, consistent, and will persuade the evaluators that your team is the only team for the contact!

download proposal management toolkit

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