to Create Great Proposal Themes (Part 1)
This is the first in a multi-part series of articles on how to create great proposal themes. Part 1 explores the definition of a theme and the benefits of theme development in the proposal process.
When you think about it, proposal writing is really about telling a story. A story about how your solutions to problems are better than your competitors' in ways that really matter to your customers. All too often, the story is written by authors who are responsible for different chapters with no clear idea of the setting, the characters, the ending, or even the moral of the story. When the proposal manager puts all of the chapters together for the first time (Pink Team) it's no wonder that the feedback is all too predictable – "solutions not clearly articulated", "claims are unsubstantiated", "compelling themes and discriminators are either hidden or missing".
Most proposal teams understand the value of developing themes as the basis for telling their story. But very few teams take the time to develop the central features, benefits and supporting proof in sufficient detail to achieve the happy (winning) ending they desire.
or a Dream?
The following win themes were actually posted on the war room wall of one of my customers (code name: DreamThemes), and serve as a vivid example of what win themes are NOT:
Proposal Win Themes...
The DreamThemes were literally dreamt up by the capture team during lunch earlier in the week and lack the detailed features, benefits, and supporting discriminators required for a complete and compelling proposal. Posting them on the proposal room wall basically brainwashed the team into thinking that they had a winning approach and were ready to write.
In stark contrast, another one of my customers (code name: MeanThemes) spent over two weeks developing a 15 page theme document. The MeanThemes document included five high-level win themes with 4-6 proposal volume-specific sub-themes for each, scores of section and requirement-level themes, with detailed features, benefits, and discriminating proof statements at each thematic level. The MeanTheme document was shared across the entire proposal team to provide high level writing guidance and served as basis for an Executive Summary that virtually wrote itself.
is a Theme?
Themes are really the fundamental building blocks for telling your story. Themes are not sales slogans. Most slogans are easy to remember catch-phrases like the current Washington Post slogan: "If you don't get it…you don't get it". This slogan is easy to remember, but lacks any real subscriber features and related benefits such as readability, cost, readership, breadth and depth of content, customized subscriber packages, and so on.
a 'Win Theme'?
a Proposal Theme?
are Themes Important?
When evaluators finish reading their assigned sections, the alignment of solution features with customer benefits and supporting proof points leave no room for doubt, confusion, or skepticism. The bottom line – your proposal is easier to evaluate, tells a compelling story, and has clearly articulated themes that scores the most points.
Part 2 of this series takes a closer look at the components of winning proposal theme.
Author Note: Readers may be interested in knowing that despite their early win theme challenges, DreamThemes won their $2 billion-dollar multiple-award Blanket Purchase Agreement and the only new entrant bidder selected in a group previously dominated by incumbents. Ironically, MeanThemes lost their $40 million single award to the incumbent with a lower-risk technical solution despite a significantly higher price.
About the Author
Still confused or looking for more detailed suggestions? Take time now to send feedback, comments, or questions about this or other challenging proposal issues to Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-255-2355. Visit www.rainmakerz.biz.
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