Rules of Thumb for Proposal Win Themes

Picture a daunted proposal evaluator who has yours and a pile of other proposals to read. Visualize hundreds of pages of boring technical text with sparse graphics, until lines turn into ants running through a page. What will this evaluator remember about your proposal by the time he or she reads the next proposal, and the next?

Enter the greatest (and the most misunderstood and misused) invention of proposal persuasion: your win themes. The main task for your win themes is to make an evaluator remember why they liked your proposal. What are the three things they may recall about your proposal at the end of a grueling evaluation period?

Here are some rules of thumb for win theme placement in your proposals:

  • There should be no more than three to five proposal-level win themes – otherwise you will confuse an evaluator and they will not remember the most important points of your offer.
  • Your most compelling win theme, the reason why you should win, should go on the first page of your executive summary or your proposal introduction. You may put the other proposal-level win themes in a focus box or a graphic on the front page as well.
  • You can have up to ten section-level win themes for each major proposal section.
  • The same win themes, stated in different ways, with different facts, proving they are credible, can appear in multiple ways throughout the proposal:
  1. In your executive summary
  2. Under section headings
  3. In a focus box, a vignette, or a pull-quote
  4. Woven into the text
  5. Featured in a graphic or an action caption under a graphic.

Unfortunately, a great many companies approach win theme development incorrectly, and fail to realize the full potential of a win theme. Here are some of the common pitfalls:

  • Treating win themes as slogans, failing to show what’s unique to you, and what’s in it for the customer
  • Doing it too late in the game to affect the overall proposal win strategy and to produce action items that are helpful for positioning to win.
  • Taking too long to develop win themes, trapping your team for hours in unproductive marathon-like sessions – with only ho-hum results to show for it.

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