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How to Use Win Themes in Your Proposals

Make Your Proposals Pop: How Win Themes Make Your Proposals Stand Out

Win Themes, the central message or set of messages your proposal needs to convey to win the solicitation, are the proposal’s version of a thesis statement. Just as every essay needs a thesis statement, every proposal needs a win theme.

By developing strong, convincing win themes, companies can quickly improve the quality of their proposal content, leading to better evaluations, a higher win percentage, and increased revenue.

In this blog post, we define win themes, discuss their importance, and outline how to get started developing strong, impactful win themes today.

What is a Win Theme?

A proposal win theme is the central message or set of messages your proposal needs to communicate to reviewers for your team to win. Each win theme should contain the following:

  • Feature – A technical component of the product or service

  • Benefit – How that feature relates to the customer

  • Proof Point – Data, quotes, or anecdotes that demonstrate expertise in delivering the feature

For example, if Patri were to write a win theme for our product, Patri Score, it might look something like this:

“Patri Score’s data-backed qualification assessments enable customers to evaluate the strength of proposal opportunities (Feature). Strong proposal qualification helps companies save time, money, and stress by focusing on only the highest-value proposal opportunities (Benefit). Patri Score’s data-backed qualification has helped top companies across multiple countries qualify over $10 billion worth of opportunities and save over 35,000 hours of labor (Proof Point).”

The Importance of Win Themes

In a proposal, you’ve only got one shot to convey all the information you need to influence reviewers to pick you instead of your competition. While proposal managers might spend countless hours preparing materials and ensuring compliance, reviewers are rarely technical experts. More often than not, reviewers are employees that have been borrowed from their primary responsibilities. They get bored. They skim long sections. They often take away only the most obvious conclusions.

And that’s precisely why you need to be clear about what the evaluators should take away from your proposal. Think of it this way: if you can’t succinctly explain why your company should win, how can you expect the reviewers to be able to?

Win Themes give a narrative structure to your proposal, allowing reviewers to connect your approach, technical features, and price to the central narrative you are constructing. Without it, proposals read flat, and it can be difficult for reviewers to differentiate between the many submissions they read.

For these reasons, implementing effective win themes can be the single greatest improvement companies can make to their proposals.

A man inspects a proposal for win themes

How to Write Effective Win Themes

Effective win themes map to the customer’s most pressing pains and help differentiate from competitors. Below, we work step by step through how to compose effective win themes.

Step 1: Prioritize the Prospect’s Pain Points

Make a list of three to five of the prospect’s most significant pain points and rank them in order of priority. This list will give you a starting point for which features and benefits you should highlight.

Step 2: Map features to the customer’s pain points

For each pain point, list a feature of your solution that addresses that pain point. If possible, try to choose a feature that both addresses the pain and differentiates your company from the competition.

Step 3: Specify differentiation of feature, if possible

Ask yourself if the feature you are highlighting distinguishes you from the competition. If so, explain in one or two sentences what differentiates your solution from the competition and why it matters in the day-to-day life of the customer.

Try to avoid cliche sentiments, like “We’re the only company to do x,” in favor of more specific differentiation, like “Our competitors do a, which results in b and c, while we do x, which results in y and z.”

Step 4: Translate features into benefits

Remember: a feature is a technical component of your service or product, and a benefit is how the feature impacts the customer’s day-to-day experience.

For every feature that you’ve listed, add a sentence explaining how that feature will functionally impact the customer.

Step 5: Add proof points

For every feature–benefit pair you’ve listed, add a specific proof point that demonstrates that you can actually deliver the feature successfully. Proof points can be data points, customer quotes, or customer stories. Feel free to mix them up throughout your win themes to keep things fresh.

Step 6: Put it All Together

Now, in 3-4 sentences, tie together all the data points you provided in steps 1-5. Start by demonstrating an understanding of the customer’s pain. Next, describe the feature that will address that pain and differentiate it from the competition if possible. Then, translate the feature to a benefit. Finally, provide proof.

Voila! You’ve written an effective win theme. In the next section, we discuss how to synthesize your win themes to ensure they are placed effectively in the proposal.

Synthesizing Your Win Themes

Now that you’ve developed your win themes, it’s time to develop the central win theme, or the main thrust of the proposal, and to outline where you’ll sprinkle in the rest of the win themes in your proposal.

Writing the Central Win Theme

By this point, you should have developed several win themes that you will sprinkle throughout your proposal. Now, you are going to develop the central win theme or the thesis of your proposal. For the central win theme, you’ll want to read over your win themes and then summarize in just a few sentences what ties all of them together.

Your central win theme should be constructed similarly to the individual win themes. It should state features, translate to benefits, and provide proof points.

For example, if your company is the budget solution in a solicitation. Your central win theme might look like this:

“BudgetSolution provides all the features that our competitors offer at a fraction of the price (Feature). Our cost-friendly solution generally translates to extra budget for an additional full-time employee (Benefit). When BudgetSolution replaced the incumbent services provider at ExampleCity, they saved $127k a year while still achieving the same output, allowing them to hire 1.5 additional employees while achieving all of their functional objectives (Proof Point).”

Incorporating Win Themes in the Proposal Outline

Now that you have your proposal win themes, you need to strategically choose where to incorporate them in the proposal.

The central win theme should be threaded throughout the entire proposal, including the transmittal letter, the executive summary, and the narrative introduction to each section (with different wordings, of course).

The other win themes should be strategically deployed in the sections that relate to them. Best practice is to create an annotated outline of a proposal before writing it and specify in which sections each win theme will be referenced. This ensures your win themes actually make it into your proposal and don’t just live in a word document.

Remember: it’s okay to repeat yourself a little bit when it comes to win themes. After all, the point is to make sure that by the end of reading your proposal, the reviewer knows exactly why they should pick you.

From Win Themes to Winning

Writing win themes for your proposals is one of the most effective ways to quickly improve proposal copy, translating into better evaluations, increased win percentage, and higher revenue.

In this blog post, we’ve discussed the importance of win themes and how to write them effectively. The next step in implementing compelling win themes is to deploy formal processes that support their development. To this end, the best tool is the Color Team Review System, a formal review system that ensures compelling win themes translate into the proposal, compliance is achieved, scoring is optimized, and all grammar and formatting mistakes are caught before submission.

For more information on implementing the Color Team Review System, developing win themes, and other best practices in modern proposal management, check out our new eBook, “The Guide to Modern Proposal Management: Four Strategies to Optimize Win Percentage, Reduce Stress, and Capture Revenue.” This eBook breaks down the best practices of the most successful proposal management functions and translates them into useful insights for companies of all sizes.

Want to learn more about how the best-performing companies optimize win percentage, reduce stress, and capture more revenue? 

Download The Guide to Modern Proposal Management eBook to learn four key strategies to help you win smarter, including:

  1. How to Implement a Disciplined, Documented Qualification Process

  2. How to Design & Implement Win Strategies to Capture Business

  3. How to Run a Color Review System

  4. How to Track the Most Impactful Proposal Metrics