Integrating Win Themes IRL
Developing a winning proposal isn’t just about checking a series of boxes. It’s about positioning your proposal within the funding landscape. The way that most teams do this is through defining a series of win themes - a set of statements or concepts that should be woven throughout your proposal draft to ensure specific messages are communicated to the reader with as much clarity as possible.
I've sat through one too many webinars talking about win themes and value propositions that never offered any practical application not to chime in.
What is the point of learning exactly how to craft a value proposition statement without knowing what to do with it next?
I've also seen far too many organizations follow this path. Someone attends a training session that articulates the value of a win theme. They bring that finding back to their team, who all agree that win themes sound great. They add a business process into their business development systems around win themes - maybe a meeting on the proposal calendar or a tool to be completed. They even have a great brainstorm with proposal team members to develop win themes?
Then the win themes sit on a shelf. They're filed in a proposal file and completely disappear from memory once the team is steeped in the reality of proposal writing, costing, and development.
It's an absolute waste and I'm officially over it.
Instead, let's talk practicality. What do you do with a win theme once you've come up with it?
Use Evidence to Build Support
First off, I don’t want to undersell the value of creating a good process for developing win themes. This sets you up for having usable win themes! Often teams seem to develop win themes based on gut feelings or perception, when a win theme should never be a hunch or a best guess. Instead it should be based on your understanding of what the customer needs and wants, and how your proposed approach measures up against the approaches proposed by your competitors.
To support this critical step in the process, Bid Boss recently developed a new tool specifically for developing win themes. In creating this, we wanted to create something that would help anyone facilitate a discussion around win themes founded in understanding the customer, competitors, and your own capabilities. We also didn’t want something that would simply sit on a shelf. We wanted to craft a tool to capture win themes, concrete benefits to the donor, and the evidence that you can present in a proposal to document those win themes.
Check out the tool here - Win Themes Worksheet.
Integrate your win themes as early as possible. This may feel counterintuitive to some writers, but getting your win themes down on paper in early drafts - even in an outline stage - can help ensure that the win themes stay present throughout drafts. Using the Win Themes Worksheet developed by Bid Boss, this could mean translating the win themes, discriminators, benefits, and evidence into certain core language which needs to be repeated in various sections of the proposal.
The way I like to do this as a technical writer is by inserting text aligned to each win theme in the appropriate sections, then inserting a comment box that labels it as a win theme. That will serve as a reminder to me not to remove that text or alter the message too significantly as drafts are consolidated and modified.
Don’t Leave Anyone Out
Don’t forget! This applies to all elements of the proposal. No more setting the cost proposal aside in the hands of a budget expert. Make sure that any win themes applicable to costing - such a lower cost, start up capacity, or management approach - are fully integrated and explained in the cost proposal. Cost is yet another way to reinforce your core messages and is a missed opportunity if you fail to integrate win themes in every area.
Similar to costing, often annexes or past performance offer another opportunity to incorporate win themes. Ensure that whoever is managing these documents is also aware of win themes and incorporating them where appropriate.
Assign Someone to Cross-check
Ensuring that win themes stay in the proposal throughout drafts and length cuts is a constant battle, and not one that a single person ought to be responsible for. Whether you assign one person, or the whole review panel, ensure that a summary of your win themes (like our table in the Win Themes Worksheet) is included as part of the review. This will give your readers a quick overview of what they are looking for, and help them measure more accurately if they are coming through. You can even have reviewers score how well the win themes come through, and note whether they saw the evidence you highlighted to support the win theme.
Another way that I like to cross-check to see if my win themes are apparent is to do a full assessment of the proposal terminology using a word cloud. If you aren’t familiar, a word cloud is a visual tool that with take all the words in a document and increase the size of certain words based on the frequency with which they appear. For example, if my win theme is “local government integration,” I’ll create a word cloud and look for how large the words in that phrase are compared to others. If they don’t appear as often as I would like, I’ll do a specific read through the proposal to see if there a places I can add the phrase in to strengthen the win theme.
If you’re stuck with a list of win themes on a shelf, now is the time to dust them off. In this competitive funding environment, there is no space for not taking advantage of every tool at your disposal to improve your chance of winning. Take the time to invest in a process that doesn’t waste effort.