Most companies, despite their best intentions (and even understanding of what a win theme is supposed to look like), fail to sell in their proposals. Win theme is one of the top five elements of proposal persuasion – and if they don’t work, it will be much harder to stand out.

Date: Jan 18, 2012

Time pressures force the team to start writing before themes are sufficiently developed and the entire proposal process begins to unravel. Here are the top 7 problems with win themes we have observed in a number of companies, no matter what their business size and maturity level has been:

  1. Win themes are lacking outright – what people think are win themes are not effective. For example, many think that being an incumbent is a win theme; but your customer may care less about it, and therefore the key requirement for a win theme to be a win theme (e.g. your customer caring about it now or in the future) is missing.
  2. Win themes come out ho-hum because the win themes development process and skills are “unnatural” – and most technical people who are supposed to develop win themes are not trained in selling. Win theme should include, at the very least, a feature and a benefit – and those who are not trained in sales and marketing often fail to understand the difference between a feature and a benefit. More importantly, because the difference is often more subtle than one may think, even proposal veterans make this mistake. There is much more to features and benefits that meet the eye – and getting them right requires correct training.
  3. Win Themes take forever to develop and therefore a team gives up at a few good ones–they have spent hours or days to drum up and most processes we have observed are flawed from the start, and therefore lead to waste. Learning the correct win theme development process can save countless hours, let alone make a company a more likely winner.
  4. Win Themes don’t pass a substitution test – if you put some other company’s name in your win theme instead of yours, would it still sound true? – “We are the low-risk, best value provider” is not a win theme – it is an overused generality. The same goes for “we understand the customer,” “we have great past performance,” “we are ISO and CMMI Level whatever…” and so on.
  5. Win Themes are lacking a punch because someone didn’t have time to verify the facts. Win themes have to have numbers in them to make them stronger. If you cannot quantify the facts, saying something like “hundreds of thousands in savings” is weak.
  6. Win Themes are self-centered and self-serving – they are about you, and not the customer. A customer could care less about your CMMI Level 3 unless you tell them what it can do for them.
  7. Win Themes are trivialized to the point that the company believes they can recycle them from other proposals. Most customers and RFPs are unique – so how could the very focus of your offer be the same?

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