People talk about “themes” like they are somehow magical. Like if you write some good themes and sprinkle them on your proposal they will transform it into something irresistible to the customer. So often proposal teams gather together and try to think of some “really good themes.” Using this approach, they rarely rise above the ordinary.
Asking for themes rarely produces good results. Instead, you need to think about where themes come from. If your goal is to provide reasons for the customer to select you (what themes are supposed to provide), then maybe you should think less about your strengths and what you offer, and think more about what matters to the customer...
Now based on your circumstances, considerations, and decisions, what do you need to communicate to your customer? What is your story?
- What is the nature of your offering? Is a commodity (whether a product or a service? Or is it a unique or specialty offering, like a customized product, professional service, or solution/integration?
- What will the type of contract or contract vehicle be? This could be fixed price, an hourly rate, or some other variant. It could be a government contract (any of the various kinds) or a commercial contract. The strategies for winning one type of contract can be very different from another.
- What is the competitive environment? Your bid strategies depend on the nature of the competitive environment. Are you the only bidder or is it competitive? Are there a few competitors that you can identify or an unknown number of competitors? Is the competitive field regulated or open?
- How will you position your company against the competition? How are you different from any potential competitors? Why are you a better choice for the customer?
- What makes your offering special? Does it have to do with the specifications or performance? Or the results it will produce or the benefits it will deliver? How is it innovative? How is it different from what your competitors will propose? Is there anything special in the way the offering will be delivered or implemented, or in how the contract will be fulfilled?
- What are your pricing strategies? Will you emphasize price or deemphasize it in favor of something else? Is there anything special about your pricing model or the options that you offer? Is there a difference in the short term or long term impact? Are there any promotions, discounts, or anything else that the customer should consider? Are there any incentives or penalties that could impact pricing or performance? Are there any pricing related contractual considerations such as bonding or insurance that makes your offering exceptional? What are your strategies and messages regarding value?
- What are the customer’s evaluation criteria? Did they put them in the RFP? Do they have an official, point scored, and documented evaluation process. Will they follow it? What do you need to say to get the top score?
- What do you know about the customer? In particular, do you know their preferences regarding what they wish to procure, how they wish to procure it, their desired results, and what they want in a vendor or to see in a proposal? Do you have any insights into their true needs? What do you know about their spoken and unspoken goals? What can you do help them fulfill those goals? What is the nature of your relationship? What do you want it to be?
- What is special about your company and/or team? Being qualified is not exceptional. But what is exceptional about your qualifications? What about your capabilities is valuable to the customer? How is your experience relevant? What successes have you had? Do you have any references or testimonials you can provide? What resources do you have?
- What quantities can you cite? What are the relationships between your resources, locations, specifications, results, etc., and the customer’s needs? How can you translate them into percentages, ratios, or statements that having meaning to the customer? Can you make them part of your win strategies or story? Quantifying things brings credibility, and doing a ton of research to boil it all down into a simple sound bite can absolutely be worth it.
- What special concerns should you address? This can range from topics like risk, quality, or environmental considerations to other qualities that can impact the customer’s decision.
But even more important, what does it add up to? Does it give the customer reasons to want to select your proposal? Does it give the evaluators what they need to justify selecting you? When they tell their bosses who they want to award the contract to, what are they going to say to explain their selection? What they say is your story. And if you don’t tell it, they’ll make one up for you.