Win More With Better Win Themes: The How

We all know why win themes are important and what they are—but in the thick of responding to an RFP, we still see a lot of clients struggling to create and incorporate fresh, customer-centric win themes. That’s why we’re covering how to create win themes in part three of our win theme series.

Where to Start

To develop a win theme, start by understanding your customer. What do they need? What obstacles do they face with other contractors? What needs do they have that aren’t being met?

For those new customers you’re chasing, get insight by:

  • Meeting with them in advance of RFP release and asking them point-blank what keeps them up at night
  • Connecting with your network and plugging into the industry to see what the incumbent is doing well (or not doing well!)
  • Going to customer events and industry days
  • Reading GAO reports, AG reports, five-year plans, budget reports, and press releases to learn about what’s top of mind for them

How it All Comes Together

This isn’t breaking news…but the requirements set forth in an RFP are meant to mitigate any bias and identify the best provider based on the most important success criteria for that specific government entity. To achieve this, the government employs a scoring scheme to ensure decisions are fact-based, accurate, impartial, and objective. That’s why stating win themes in your executive summary and weaving them throughout each volume and sub-section is so important—you can show evaluators early-on and consistently that you’re not just the best fit, but that they can get excited about what you’re offering and what’s in it for them.

Win themes are finite statements that should be customized not only to each customer, but within your proposal, for each volume and subsection. If it sounds like we’re saying you’ll have a separate win theme for your management approach and team, technical volume, and pricing—you’re right! For example, in your management volume, your top-level theme may be more broad, but in each subsection, you’d have a theme tied directly to the impression you want to leave evaluators with. Take the staffing plan win theme—it can be about how your rapid staffing allows you to meet surge requirements and fill any positon within two weeks, or how your deep bench allows you to supplement key resources. Your narrative and all subsequent paragraphs would support the staffing plan win theme statement.

Even if your pricing criteria is best value—we’d encourage you to come up with a win theme stating what your best value is. And, yes, we know that a lot of agencies aren’t allowing narratives for pricing, but if there is one, you need to have a win theme articulating your best value.

Our Approach

We follow a simple algorithm to craft proposal win themes:

Feature + Expected Outcome + Benefit + Proof =

Proposal Win Theme

What’s not simple is customizing win themes for each volume, section, and even sub-section of a given response. This is where the rubber meets the road and where most clichés start to sneak in (see what we did there?!). But—never fear—we’ve broken down each element to clearly showcase what specifically needs to be included as part of your feature, outcome, benefit, and proof point in order to create compelling win themes. Knowing how these fit together streamlines the process of developing win themes early and then pulling those threads through each section of your response. 

Features are characteristics or elements of your solution that satisfy or exceed RFP requirements. These may include software, hardware, methodologies, processes, performance levels, and the number and experience of key personnel. They are the means to your end—but not necessarily the end itself. You don’t want to include every feature of your solution either—just the pieces and aspects that are relevant and impactful to solving your customer’s pains and problems.

Expected Outcomes shows how specific features will produce the results your client is expecting. Expected outcomes are clear, measurable, and based on your experience implementing that feature previously. Your customer is going to want to see in your response the changes and results they can expect. It’s imperative that you weave in what each feature of your solution looks like—whether quantitatively or qualitatively—when it’s successfully achieved.

Benefits are tied to specific features. If your feature doesn’t tie to an identified need, concern, or requirement…then it’s of no use or benefit to the customer. If you’re struggling to identify how your customer will benefit when you’re writing a win theme, you may not be writing a customer-centric win theme. Because solving your customer’s problem, and how you solve that problem, is the benefit. Benefits could include saving money, easing administrative burdens, increasing performance levels and operational efficiencies, improving response times, or reducing risks. Basically, benefits show how your feature and its outcome make your customer look good.

  • Watch out for words that imply permanence. Assertions like “never,” “always,” “100-percent,” “completely,” and “error-free” can actually reduce trustworthiness.
  • Show, don’t tell, historical performance and the time spent on those projects.
  • Demonstrate existing knowledge of your customer’s environment and your technical capability to perform the SOW.
  • Outline the relevant experience of key personnel and management to showcase the value each individual and the overall team provides.

A Real-Life Example

We assume that every proposal submitted is going to be at least acceptable. That’s why we always aim for putting in the time, effort, and energy needed to creating a compelling response.


Our management approach is based on PMBOK.

This win theme is essentially saying…nothing. It does not meet even basic requirements and could be used by any and all companies responding to the RFP.

Blah…but acceptable

Our PMBOK-based management approach will reduce errors and improve efficiencies.

Although this win theme is articulating that it will meet the basic requirements, it has no clear strengths. Nor has it demonstrated an adequate understanding of the requirements by sharing the approach that will be used to reduce errors and improve efficiencies.

Solid & Very Good

Our PMBOK-based management approach leverages Microsoft SharePoint dashboards to streamline reporting.

This win theme shows how the requirements will be met and the benefit provided to the customer. However, it doesn’t give any proof that you’ve done this before or provide data to give scale of the improvement. Are we talking streamlining reporting to save a tiny bit of time (e.g. is it really worth the effort and cost to the customer?) or does it save a ton of time? As it stands, this win theme leaves the customer guessing.

Compelling & Outstanding

Our PMBOK-based management approach uses SharePoint dashboards for real-time reporting; reducing time to resolve errors by an average of 42% over more than 20 implementations across DoD.

This theme has it all—feature, benefit, expected outcome, and proof—while still being brief and direct.

Final Thoughts

This level of attention can seem tedious, but win themes are key to communicating  your company’s story. The way you separate yourself from your competitors is by identifying what your organization does differently. You might sell the same services, but to differentiate, customers need to hear less of “We have great people” and more about what how and why your tenure, education, and diversity matter to them.

Like what you see here and want some help creating win themes for your current or next proposal? Let’s talk! Schedule a meeting or Tweet at us to hear how we can help you win more with stronger and easier proposals.