Proposal Writing to Win Strategy: Proposal Themes

Quality proposals use Win Themes, or central, overarching messages, to subtly echo the Win Strategy throughout the entire proposal. They also use Proposal Themes: succinct, section-specific statements that set the stage for what the evaluator is about to read. The problem with Proposal Themes is that they are often confused with Win Themes.

What’s the difference between Win Themes and Proposal Themes? How do you craft a Proposal Theme? How do you use Proposal Themes to engage evaluators and increase your win probability? That’s what we’ll explore in the second Blog in this series focused on proposal writing.

What is a Proposal Theme?

Win Themes are subtle, central messages not explicitly stated in the content. Proposal teams typically deploy only one or two, weaving them into introductory paragraphs and conclusions. Proposal Themes, however, are section-specific feature/benefit or benefit/proof statements explicitly stated in the content.

Just like Win Themes, Proposal Themes should be developed as part of your writing plan, or Interplay phase of your proposal development.

Write your Proposal Themes

As with Win Themes, Proposal Themes must be in context, or harmonized, with the prospect’s perspective. Grab your Win Strategy and Win Themes and gather your team responsible for the section:

  1. Review. What does your prospect care about in this section? For example, if you are writing a section about implementation, what keeps the prospect up at night when it comes to implementing a solution to their challenge?

  2. Details. What specific details of your approach best address the prospects concerns about the implementation? Consider what your competition will say and how to counter their line of reasoning.

  3. Benefits. What specific benefits will your prospect receive/experience (within the context of their concerns) by working with you and your implementation approach? Versus the competition?

  4. Proof Points. Prove your implementation approach argument; what evidence do you have that addresses the same or similar concerns when implementing this solution? What will the competition say?

  5. Prioritize. Prioritize based on evaluators and decision-makers, competition and scoring criteria. Select the best feature/benefit or benefit/proof option for the implementation approach section.

  6. Craft. Pull the details together; right now they probably look like a couple of long run-on sentences. Edit down by removing extraneous words. Swap in stronger words. Until you have single, short, hard-hitting statement, putting the prospects feature/benefit or benefit/proof benefit first.

  7. Rephrase. For multiple Proposal Themes in a section, rephrase. For example, swap out one proof point for a different proof point.

  8. Repeat. Repeat for each section, balancing and connecting Proposal Themes across the proposal. Remember, Proposal Themes are not just unique to the proposal section; they are unique to the proposal at large.

It may take several collaborative sessions to get your Proposal Theme(s) right. By centralizing and promoting a Proposal 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 they write. This also means you will also automatically retain previous versions of the discussion so you don’t lose any details along the way.

Brainstorming Techniques

Crafting compelling Proposal Themes can be challenging. So can finding different ways to rephrase and reuse a Proposal Theme elsewhere in the proposal. If you’re team is struggling with Steps 1 – 4 above, grab some sticky notes, or open an online white board, and try one of these brainstorming and data visualization techniques:

  1. Storyboarding. A Storyboard visually outlines each proposal section. For example, visualize (draw) what keeps your prospect up late at night in this section. A Storyboard will help the team brainstorm and flesh out exactly how they’ll tell each chapter of your proposal story, ensuring your section narrative is focused, and your proposal narrative hangs together from section to section.

  2. Word Clouds. Word Clouds are a collection or cluster of words depicted in different sizes. They are a fast and easy way for capturing and visualizing your team’s ideas real-time. For example, ask your team for a word that describes the prospects concerns with this section. The more popular the word, the bigger and bolder it appears in the Word Cloud.

  3. Mind Map. A Mind Map is a hand-drawn diagram that represents concepts and ideas arranged around a central idea, without having to worry about order and structure until after you brainstorm. For example, “what concerns your prospect about this proposal section” is your central idea. Have the team build on that, adding words and details that better describe the concerns, details, benefits and proofs.

When brainstorming, data visualization is important; when everyone can see everyone else’s ideas, the team can more easily explore, interact and connect on ideas. Plus, the team will start to see new relationships between ideas.

Whether you and your team are in the same room or online together, brainstorming is a great critical thinking tool that helps teams innovate solutions to problems. For brainstorming to work, however, it’s important that you consider your team. Are they rested and in good spirits? Do they have capacity to push their work aside and focus on this task? Are they comfortable in the setting you’ll use? Be sure to set a time limit and some boundaries. For example, begin by making it clear that there are no bad ideas, just ideas.

Deploy your Proposal Themes

Proposal teams may deploy any number of section Proposal Themes. By answering the question, “Why should I read this section” and “Why should I select your solution”, Proposal Themes focus evaluator’s attention on your Win Strategy. For example:

  • Think of Proposal Themes as section sub-titles in a story: inviting the evaluator in while framing-in what the evaluator can expect to learn.

  • Use Proposal Themes for call-out boxes and graphics, drawing the evaluator’s attention to what you want them to take away from the section.

  • Proposal Themes are also a great way to draw attention to areas of your section where you feel you score high, for example, solution fit or experience.

Defining Proposal Themes first, before writing begins, will also help your proposal team:

  • Annotate your Proposal Outline with your Proposal Themes; they will emphasize the important points of each section and act as a guide as writing begins.

  • Proposal Themes ensure multiple writers are on the same page regarding your expectations for each section.

  • Proposal Themes also ensure reviewers are on the same page when it comes to feedback.

Well written Proposal Themes provide clear and convincing reasons that capture the attention, and the imagination, of evaluators. They drive a clearer understanding of solution features with customer benefits, leaving no room for doubt, confusion, or skepticism.

Why Proposal Themes? The bottom line – when you use Proposal Themes, your proposal is easier write, review, evaluate and score.

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