When we talk about win themes, we’re talking about the higher-level features and benefits of your solution. Win themes are not one-size fits all. They focus on individual customer pain points and speak to those points specifically—whether lower cost, lower risk, proven solutions, innovation, experienced talent, or performance-based accountability—by using proof statements to validate how those pain points will be mitigated and resolved.
According to Shipley standards, a win theme is a tactical statement presented to the customer that implements and demonstrates the benefits of a solution or product and links that benefit to the discriminating features of your offer.
Simply put—win themes are the messages your customer will use to justify why they selected you and your team.
Win Theme Types
We believe that with a little editing and some data, most content can shine. We see hundreds of win themes each year and, in our experience, they fall into one of three buckets: blah, solid but boring, and compelling.
Blah themes don’t say anything, or, are so fluffed up with marketing jargon evaluators stop reading mid-sentence. Blah themes not only miss the customer’s pain points, but aren’t even relevant to the current proposal. They may feature unsubstantiated claims, or seem so blustery and full of showy bravado that even if they are true…they kill credibility.
The biggest win-theme misconception is incumbency. Many companies assume that being the incumbent is not only a win theme, but also a differentiator. However, customers may actually care less about incumbency and more about the key requirements and pain points. This is especially true when your work as the incumbent didn’t yield the best experience or results.
Solid, but boring themes are clear and compliant. They articulate your key capabilities and show how you outshine the competition, but aren’t agency or customer-specific. They are general statements you’d see in a more technical marketing piece like a website or whitepaper. Again, solid, but not compelling. We see this happen a lot with certifications. Some certifications may be extremely valuable internally, but if the customer doesn’t value it, focusing on it as a win theme isn’t useful. Also, even if a certification is relevant to the customer—it’s just a solid win theme if you don’t explain how the certification reduces risk or is implemented in your process.
Compelling themes MATTER. Compelling themes build upon solid themes. They start by addressing the pain points of a specific prospect or customer and conclude by indicating how your solution will make their lives better. Compelling themes are completely customer-centric and data-driven. For example, saying your software creates operational efficiencies is blah. Saying your software creates operational efficiencies and reduces implementation time could be solid if your customer is concerned about implementation times. But saying your software creates operational efficiencies and reduced implementation times by 32 percent on the 15 other DoD contracts…well, that is compelling.
A powerful win theme can establish your organization as the front runner even in the most competitive fields. When your reviewers—procurement, technical, executive, or otherwise—walk away from your proposal, your win themes are the lasting impressions they are left with.
Win themes should be
- Significant and believable
- Defendable by verifiable and quantitative facts and successful experience
- Customer and RFP-specific
- Easy to score against evaluation criteria
- No more than 1-2 sentences
- True only to you and your company
- Compellingly innovative and engaging to encourage evaluators to read further
Win themes should not be
- Focused on irrelevant benefits that have nothing to do with the RFP
- Untested, speculative, subjective, and unsubstantiated
- Generic, one-size-fits-all strategies
- Written without regard for key requirements and the award process
- Old news or lacking vision
- Also true of your competitors
- Missing or so hard to find that evaluators miss your key message.