Proposal Win Themes: What are they and how do you develop them?

A win theme is arguably the most important part of your proposal. They let the RFP issuer know how you plan to alleviate the challenges they are facing. By creating win themes and referencing them throughout the proposal, response teams have a way to consistently place priority on a specific product or service that is important to the client.
Claire Whelan
6 min read
proposal win themes

Creating a winning proposal centers around two clear goals. Ensuring you are complying with the RFP requirements and addressing the core pain points of an RFP. Showing that you understand and can relieve specific pain points can go a long way toward increasing your chances of winning new business. This is where win themes can help you to focus. But what are win themes and how do you develop and fine-tune them to create a successful proposal?

What is a win theme?

A win theme is arguably the most important part of your proposal. When you read through an RFP your first goal will be to understand what the evaluator is looking for – a service or product. Your second objective will be to identify the pain points or challenges the RFP has highlighted. Your response to these pain points, i.e. how you can alleviate them, are your win themes.

Integrating your win themes into your proposal or bid is the job of your Bid or Proposal Manager. They will need to apply your win themes throughout your proposal, reinforcing your ability to meet the specific requirements.

Identifying proposal win themes is an essential part of developing a successful RFP response. It can significantly help to avoid burnout in RFP response teams. Win themes are the key messages and benefits that differentiate the proposal from competitors and appeal to the evaluators.

Using proposal software can help identify and develop win themes by providing features that help evaluate the RFP requirements. By using proposal software to identify win themes, teams can ensure that the proposal is focused and persuasive. This reduces the likelihood of multiple revisions or last-minute changes that can contribute to burnout. Additionally, proposal software can help streamline the proposal creation process by automating repetitive tasks reducing the workload and stress on team members.

Win theme examples

  • Low cost
  • Low risk
  • Innovation
  • Performance
  • Expertise
  • Qualifications
  • Proven solutions

Win themes center around key concerns your potential client may have when they’re looking for a partner or supplier. They want a reliable partner with a solution that has proven results. They may be looking for a partner with years of accumulated sector knowledge and a safe pair of hands. Or they may be seeking out a low-cost solution that is also low-risk. Whatever their challenges or pain points are, the goal of your proposal should be to answer them. This provides clear evidence that you are an ideal choice.

It’s important not to have too many win themes in your proposal. The most effective proposals typically focus on between one and three win themes. By narrowing the number of win themes in your proposal you can take your time developing them, fine-tuning them and creating a compelling narrative. The key is to make sure you choose the most convincing proposal win themes. Those will often be the ones that you can most effectively support with discriminators and finer details.

As we’ve said, effective proposals generally have no more than three win themes. If you have chosen one central win theme you can use strategic repetition to reinforce that theme throughout your proposal. Try rephrasing or paraphrasing your central theme. Offer a new piece of supporting evidence or discriminator. Maybe even consider multi-media content like a video testimonial to really capture the evaluator’s attention.

What is the correlation between win themes and discriminators?

Win themes indicate how you will address the pain points outlined in an RFP. Discriminators focus on how you will do that better than your competitors. Your win themes set the scene and form the basis for your proposal. Your proposal will center around them, ensuring at every opportunity that you’re showcasing your credentials.

In reality though, your close competitors will also feature similar win themes in their proposal. So how do you ensure your bid stands out? This is where discriminators play a role. You use discriminators to differentiate your message from your likely competitors.

So, for example, if one of your win themes is proven solutions. Your discriminators could be:

  • Customer testimonials
  • Customer case studies
  • Awards your solution has won
  • Standards or certifications you have achieved with your solution

It’s important to note that discriminators do not just differentiate your product or solution from your competitors. They tie into what is important to the pain points outlined in the RFP. Simply outlining unique features of a product or solution is not compelling unless these features directly address the challenges the RFP has outlined.

Why are win themes and discriminators so important to your proposal?

Win themes in proposals act like a guide for the proposal evaluator. They bring the evaluator through your proposal, telling them what they can expect from each section. A well-written proposal with compelling win themes will offer incontrovertible evidence that you are the organization most suited to the contract.

In theory, the evaluator should be able to understand and follow your proposal simply by reading your win themes.

They should be able to see:

  • how you are positioning your solution or product,
  • why it is best suited to their requirements,
  • what features in your solution or product are unique,
  • how these features directly address their pain points
  • and how your solution or product outshines your competitors.

The ultimate goal is to establish win themes and discriminators that are clear, compelling and easy to follow. This will make your proposal easier to evaluate. They can follow the trail you’ve created, the bread crumbs that lead them to score your proposal highly and defend it to decision-makers.

Bearing this in mind, selecting your win themes and developing them is an incredibly important part of the proposal writing process. In fact, it should be one of the first tasks of your proposal team. The first step will be to identify all of the pain points in the RFP. Your team, led by your Bid or Proposal Manager, should then discuss the pain points. Identify the ones that feature most prominently or seem most critical. You can then narrow your win themes down further. Select those that you can develop, have discriminators for and can support with persuasive evidence.

At this planning stage, it’s a good idea to consider how you will deploy your win themes throughout the proposal. In the executive summary, you should focus on the high-level benefits and proof points. In a solution overview, you should focus on the user, what the solution is and how it solves the specific problem. Consider compiling a dictionary of words or concepts that you can repeat throughout the proposal wherever you mention your win themes. Repetition is a good tool to use to capture the evaluator’s attention and reinforce your message.

How to expand on your win themes

Choosing the most compelling win themes will help you to develop a natural flow or narrative for your proposal. So how do you expand on your chosen win themes?

Think critically and objectively

Consider why the customer would consider working with you or choosing your product. Does your win theme answer the question – how does our organization solve your problem?

Be concise with your win themes

Keep your writing clear and brief. Use one short sentence to sum up your win theme, instead of multiple, long-winded sentences. Your goal is to capture the evaluator’s attention and keep it.

Be consistent with your win themes

Consider where you will place them in your proposal. Do they head up each section? Will you be using them in your summary?

Be clear about your discriminators

Outline the benefits of working with your organization and then connect those benefits to specific product or solution features.

Make sure you can back up your win themes and discriminators

You will need to support all your win themes and discriminators. You cannot state how your organization is different without supporting it with evidence.

Make sure your discriminators are compelling

They will need to go beyond simply stating the benefits of your product or solution. They will need to showcase clear reasons why your organization can solve a challenge for the customer.

Match your win theme structure to the evaluation process

Follow the proposal response format to the letter. Make sure your win themes appear in the correct position throughout your proposal. Whether that’s at the beginning of a section, in the body of the proposal itself, or at the top of each page.

How to ensure adequate win theme coverage throughout your proposal

We’ve discussed the importance of peppering your proposal with your win themes and their supporting discriminators and details. You want the evaluator to see that you are aligning your win themes to the pain points from the RFP. And that you are reinforcing those win themes all the way through your proposal. This is known as win theme coverage, and is a critical part of the proposal writing process.

Your proposal is likely being compiled and written by a large team that can span different departments. Some departments or team members may not deploy your win themes as thoroughly as others. This can lead to inconsistency or missed opportunities to reinforce your proposal win themes.

How can VisibleThread help?

Using New Discovery in VT Docs helps you to accurately identify and reinforce these win themes in your response while increasing your chances of winning. New Discovery uses AI to group keywords together by theme. This allows you to easily investigate multiple documents and unearth misalignment or gaps, without the stress of manually searching.

At a glance, you can see a clear overview of reoccurring win themes. This will help you to gauge:

  • how you have distributed your win themes throughout your proposal,
  • areas where they have been adequately covered,
  • and areas where they are lightly covered and areas where you have not mentioned them at all.

This alignment analysis is an invaluable step for your proposal teams. It will help to make sure your proposal is clearly outlining your win themes, addressing the RFP pain points and meeting all requirements of the RFP.


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