Proposal Writing to Win Strategy: Win Themes

A win strategy is a company's plan for “how to” win the opportunity. It represents a deep understanding of your prospect. It articulates your solution features, benefits and proof points. It identifies your prospect audience and frames everything you know in their context. It outlines how you rank against your competition. All of the information business development uses to make your bid decision. 

The problem with win strategies is… evaluators don’t read win strategies. Evaluators read proposals. Translating your win strategy into the written proposal is how you engage, impress, and win over evaluators.

Quality proposals use win themes to translate win strategy into the written word, helping evaluators better understand, absorb, and accept your solution. What is a win theme? How do you use them to engage evaluators? That’s what we’ll explore in the first Blog in this series on proposal writing.

What is a Win Theme?

Win themes are a proposition; the high-level reason(s) why the evaluator should read your proposal, score it high, defend it to decision-makers, and award you the contract. While they are not explicitly stated in the text, their underlying message runs throughout your proposal story and narrative.

Win themes resonate with the evaluator because they are something they really care about. For example, in movies, it’s the theme of “love” in Titanic and the theme of “perseverance” in Rocky.

Remember, a win theme is a central message that subtly echoes throughout the proposal, bridging sections and helping the evaluator follow your narrative. A proposal theme, which we’ll explore in the next Blog in this series, is more specific, answering the question, “Why should we select you?” each step of the way.

Write your Win Theme(s)

Begin with your win strategy details; challenges, goals, solution, benefits, proofs, context, and of course, the competition and the audience. The more specific the details, and the more context you can add to each detail, the better your win theme(s) will be.

Gather the team to brainstorm and prioritize:

1. Prospect. Who are the evaluators? Who are the decision makers? What are their goals? What are their concerns? Who knows them? Who follows them on Social Media? In what context are they experiencing their concerns and goals? Consider everyone on the team, from sales to delivery, and if you’re the incumbent, customer support.

    • Action: Make a list of evaluators and decision makers, including each of their top five challenges, goals, and concerns. Add a context for each and prioritize.

2. Solution. What solution features address their challenges? Their goals? Their concerns?

    • Action: Add them to the list and reprioritize based on your best features.

3. Benefits. What are the benefits of each feature? Think about context, what you know about the evaluator’s current state.

    • Action: Add a benefit and prospect context to each feature and reprioritize based on your best benefits.

4. Proof. Have you done this before? What proof do you have? Consider customer quotes, case studies and surveys and industry ratings, performance reports, and recommendations. The trick here is to match context; is the proof framed in the right context for this prospect?

    • Action: Add a proof and a prospect context to each. Reprioritize based on your best proof points.

5. Distinguish. What will the competition offer and claim? How do you compare? What will help you stand-out? Is there a mistaken context to their rationale? These are your discriminators; features of your solution (and their context) that differ from the competition, yet still rank in the top five in the minds of evaluators and decision-makers.

    • Action: Add a discriminator to each Solution/Benefit and reprioritize.

6. Review. At this point you’ll have something that looks like lots of big, run-on sentences for each decision maker and evaluator. They’re long and they’re awkward. But they are loaded with team mindshare details and prioritized in context to the prospect.

    • Action: Take a step back. Consider your prospect again and reprioritize as needed.

7. Consider this. Consider this when choosing your top one or two win themes: a salesman won’t sell you a car based on its tires. They will sell you a car based on the tires performance, i.e., safety and handling.

    • Action: Pair the top one or two down to their essence. Your win theme should be short, clear, succinct and notable. Quality proposals usually have no more than one or two win themes

It may take several collaborative sessions to get your win theme(s) right. By centralizing and promoting your win theme discussion with a center, rather than from all sides as with email, you’ll invite your team to react, ask questions and discuss details. This will build better understanding, and acceptance, among the team, eliminating questions and doubts as everyone writes. It also means you'll automatically retain previous versions of the discussion so you don’t lose any details along the way.

Deploy Your Win Themes

Weaving win themes throughout your proposal helps evaluators follow, and accept, your line of thinking. Remember, not all evaluators read the proposal from front to back. Whether they open it at the executive summary or the solution overview, they should be able to quickly pick-up your narrative and understand your proposition. 

  • Plan. Think of your win theme(s) as a "lens" through which to outline each proposal section. How you deploy your win theme(s) in the executive summary (high-level, c-level, why, benefits and proofs) will differ from how you deploy your win themes in the solution overview (how-to, user-level, what and how). Identify a few words or concepts for each section that will help the writer emphasize your win theme(s).

  • Outline. Before you begin writing or reaching for reusable content, consider a rough win theme outline. Consider your introductory paragraphs, call-out boxes, graphics and conclusions and how your win theme(s) can bridge your narrative between sections. 

  • Reusable content? Start by separating the context (previous prospect's point of view) from your requirement text (your response to RFP requirements). Now, couch your requirement text in your current win theme(s) context. Focus on making it relatable, in other words, more on the "what" and the "how" and not so much on the "why".

  • Repetition. Remember, quality proposals usually have no more than one or two win themes. Instead of more win themes, they use strategic repetition to subtly remind readers of your central theme, boosting readability. For example, revise by rephrasing the win theme, swapping in a different benefit or proof, and adding a visual to reinforce your point.

Well-crafted win themes provide clear and convincing reasons that capture the evaluator’s attention, and imagination. As they read, they better follow and understand your line of reasoning, leaving no room for confusion and making it easier to score. When they’re finished reading, they better understand, and accept, your solution so they can defend it to decision-makers. The bottom line – your proposal is easier to write, evaluate, score and defend when it uses win themes to clearly articulate and support your proposition.

Read on to explore Proposal Themes.

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