On win themes and proposal themes

Once you’ve figured out the benefits of your solution for various customer stakeholders, you need to communicate the benefits in your proposal.

Sorry, this is a different type of “WIN.” Whip Inflation Now needlework picture. By Unknown author – Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20829024

While I try to avoid complexity where possible, there are times when the communication of benefits will follow a hierarchy. Cheryl Smith describes two levels of the hierarchy in her Privia blog post:

Win Themes. These subtle messages are woven into your proposal narrative, reinforcing your Win Strategy. Knowing specifically what they are upfront will help reviewers know what to look for and identify how and where to improve them.

Proposal Themes. These explicit, section-specific statements are used to guide the evaluator as they read. Knowing specifically what they are upfront will help reviewers test how well they support your Win Theme(s) and identify how to improve them.

As you may recall, different evaluators read different sections of a proposal. For an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) proposal, you may have a certified latent examiner reading the latent entry section of the proposal, while an information technology person might read the network and security section of the proposal.

Unless you’re a sole proprietor, your win themes, proposal themes, and benefits will probably need some level of buyoff from multiple people. Perhaps your salesperson will advance some themes, but maybe his or her boss will need to approve them. (Approvals are a necessary evil in the proposal process.)

And then when the writers actually write the proposal, the writing will be measured (among other methods) for its faithfulness to the themes. Smith addresses this measurement also:

Be careful what you ask for. When you ask reviewers a generic question like “feedback,” you should expect a generic answer like, “this is weak.” Instead, ask reviewers a specific question like “how can I improve this section” or “how can I support this Win Theme”? This small adjustment in reviewer mind-set will transform a “this is weak” comment into an “add this proof point to strengthen the section” instruction. 

This is something discussed by Carl Dickson (someone I’ve mentioned before in another context).

In the perfect world, a proposal—even a proposal hundreds of pages long—will have consistent themes throughout. It won’t sound like it was written by a bunch of different people—even though it probably WAS written by a bunch of different people.

One of my clients is a practitioner of something called a “book of truth,” a short document distributed to all of the writers for a particular proposal. The book of truth not only states the win themes and proposal themes, but also has some rules for consistency, such as how to refer to the customer. You don’t want to refer to the customer as “Los Angeles County” on page 2, “the County of Los Angeles” on page 7, “L.A. County” on page 9, and “San Francisco” on page 11.

Yes, the latter can happen when you repurpose text and don’t check it carefully. Watch out, because despite the fact that San Francisco and Los Angeles are in the same state, they are not the same city, despite what some people might think.

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