Win Themes are pithy, memorable phrases in a proposal that tell the Government customer exactly why they should choose you — not your competitors — for a contract. Win Themes explain the benefits you can bring the customer through your solution, and they’re supported by specific proof.

A proposal is a sales document. The point of a proposal is to convince your Government customer that they should select you and not someone else. But we don’t write our proposals for the void called the Government. We write proposals to a specific agency and to the evaluators who make the buying decision. Your customer may be purchasing something on behalf of an agency or end-users, and that warrants consideration during capture and proposal development. But what really matters is targeting whoever makes the buying decision. It’s their understanding of the problem and their understanding of what the agency needs — not what the agency or user base actually needs — that becomes the focus of your capture efforts and, later, your Win Themes.

To figure out who our audience is, we need to conduct the first two phases of Capture, customer engagement, and intelligence gathering. We need to understand what the agency wants, how much they have to spend in order to get it, and who will be evaluating the proposal. That includes the Procuring Contracting Officer (PCO) and the members of the source selection panel and technical review board, if applicable.

Once we have a good idea of who our customer is, we need to brainstorm on hot buttons. What are your customer’s fears, hopes, and biases? It’s very important NOT to refer to ourselves at this point, and this is a common problem. As business developers, we’re used to talking about ourselves and what solutions we have to offer. We might even have a great solution that the Government isn’t asking for, but we know it would be exactly what they need.


Start with the customer. What do they want, what have they asked for, and what is their understanding of the need? What are they afraid of, and what are the highest priorities for your evaluators and their agency right now? We need to document your customer’s hot buttons in as much detail as possible, and then we will design the benefits that our solution must offer based on those hot buttons.

Benefits generally fall into four categories: better, faster, cheaper, or less risky. Keep in mind, these benefits can be mutually exclusive, so don’t try to claim them all at once for the same solution. Once we have benefits that tie directly to the hot buttons, now (and only now) we turn the attention to ourselves and develop Win Themes. Your Win Themes are how your company responds to these hot buttons. Specifically, they’re comprised of a feature, a benefit, and a proof statement.

We now must describe and document the features that we can offer to produce these specific benefits. A feature is anything used to do work, which can be a person, place, thing, unique offering, organizational structure, etc. We also have to provide proof that we can deliver these benefits for each feature-benefit statement. We need to prove to our customers that we’ve done it before and that we can do it again. Any feature or benefit statement without proof is just an unsubstantiated assertion.

As we’re reviewing the benefits, you might find gaps in your ability to deliver (features) the required benefits, or in your past performance (proof). These gaps become action items for the Capture or Business Development team to fill. Our Win Strategy is how we fill these gaps. Maybe we need to find a new technology partner or a low-price partner to do a piece of the work to bring down our price. Maybe we need to identify and secure key personnel, develop a strategic partnership with a key subcontractor, or buy a company. Maybe we need to win a different contract before we will have adequate proof to bid on this opportunity. All of these things require time, which is why developing Win Themes is a capture activity, not a proposal one.

Brainstorming hot buttons and developing Win Themes is an iterative process, it doesn’t usually come together all at once. You’re always refining them as you receive additional information. We should continue to engage with the customer, gather intelligence, and update our Win Themes and Win Strategy. We also want to verify hot buttons, assumptions, and our solution with the customer as we progress through this process.

By starting with our customer’s hot buttons and building our Win Themes on how we can address them, we zero in on exactly where the customer buying sweet spot is. And that’s how we make sure that our Win Themes are not overly corny or miss the mark. Winning proposals give the customer exactly what they want at the price they can afford, and the best way to make sure you hit that mark is to develop your Win Themes early and use the process to determine your Win Strategy.

If you’re interested in learning more about developing Win Themes, then check out our one-day Proposal Win Strategy and Win Themes Development class.

We also facilitate Win Themes Workshops during capture for our clients, so reach out if you would like to learn more about how we can help you win your next contract.

Contact us to learn more.

(301) 384-3350

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