Making the case for your offer

You finally have the first draft of that big proposal from your crack writing team. As you go through the draft you sigh—why is it that the first draft is always so far from what we need! You see great processes but overall it does not sing. Each piece of the proposal stands well on its own, but there is no a unified story to hold it all together. Is there a way to reduce the first draft angst? Well yes, there is. But it takes more work at the front end to provide the team strong direction based on clear and relevant win themes.

Win themes are high-level ideas and concepts that merge the needs of the agency with your company differentiators and strengths. Writing your win themes out first will make for easier proposal writing and create a more coherent response. Ultimately your goal is to tell a story about the needs of the client and how your company is prepared to meet them. That sounds great Jim, how do I get some win themes! Four things to think about…

Start with client needs

Nothing is more uninteresting to a proposal reader than a bunch of flowery language and an unmitigated flow of superlatives about your great company. They won’t care until you convince them that you care about them.

  • Understand why the agency is putting out this work and what they want to accomplish through it.

  • Familiarize yourself with the challenges the agency is facing.

  • Be aware of how they prove to Congress their budget is worth preserving and any scrutiny they are under.

  • Learn which non-government players are supplanting, supporting or attacking your client and their mission.

  • Given all this, consider what contractor qualifications the agency needs for this requirement.

Be the solution

Starting with your company’s brand proposition, your response should succinctly describe why you are the right firm to meet their needs. For example, are you qualified because you:

  • Understand the agency, partners and how to get things done?

  • Can guarantee quality of delivery, whether it is defined as responsiveness, surge capacity, accuracy or customer service?

  • Have technical expertise, creativity or a unique solution to the technical challenges?

Low risk

At the bottom of all purchase decisions by the government is a desire to avoid risk. Your goal is to convince the reviewers you will get the job done with the least risk possible.

  • If you have a previous track record with this agency or a similar agency be sure to describe that work and the outcomes.

  • Share information on any experienced staff who have expertise to contribute.

  • Highlight superlative and verifiable metrics on staff turnover or cost containment.

  • Create a fearless risk assessment matrix and mitigation plan. Also consider submitting a cost containment plan – evaluators like a bidder who is watching the piggy bank.

Blow the competition out of the water

At this point you should know who you are up against and their strengths and weaknesses. While you should refrain from specifically naming competitors, you can implicitly make sure the reviewer understands why you are the better choice.

  • Place a strong emphasis on your best skills and connect them to core needs of the client. Make them salient to the reviewer.

  • Where the incumbent contractor is strong, figure out how you can meet their qualifications through teaming or limited contingent hires.

  • Remember to tell the evaluators what you are willing to do that others either can’t or won’t.

  • Support your qualifications with metrics. In most cases, numbers speak louder than words.

There are compelling and less-than-compelling win themes.

  • Non-compelling: “We offer a unique, world-class approach to recruiting and onboarding qualified personnel to meet challenging requirements.”

  • Compelling: “For Agency A, we onboarded 85 security-cleared IT and cybersecurity staff in under four weeks. We are performing the second year of a four-year contract with Agency B to onboard several hundred engineering staff in up to seven countries; our work to date has received ratings of ‘Excellent.’”

Win themes are a critical part of writing a compelling proposal. Don’t do any writing until the win themes are created and agreed to by the whole proposal team.


Win themes are one of the 10 Steps to Winning more Government Money for Your Business I describe in my recently released book now available in hardcopy and digital formats. 

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