Want to give your bids the winning edge? Use theme statements

Business woman wins by pushing ball while others push cubes If I could only give one piece of advice on how to develop bids or proposals with the best chance of winning, it would be this:

Start every section with a compelling theme statement.

In my opinion, the ability to write good theme statements is the most important skill in bid writing.

A theme statement is (typically) a one or two sentence outline of why the solution you describe in a particular section is your customer’s best option.

For example:

You can improve the efficiency and accuracy of order fulfilment by automating the process using our customisable ABC solution. We have used this solution for [similar customers] to cut related costs by as much as 37%.

 
It might seem simple, but just doing this one thing can be incredibly powerful. A series of good theme statements does a disproportionate amount of a bid’s heavy lifting. For a start, each one grabs the customer’s attention and gives them a reason to read on. But working together, as each adds to the next, they build and confirm the feeling that you are the provider they should go with.

That feeling counts. Remember: evaluators are human beings. Theme statements make it as easy as possible for them to award you the points that will win you the contract.

 

The formula for compelling theme statements

A good theme statement has three key components. And they all have to be there for the statement to work properly. It needs to:

1 address the customer’s key issues
2 explain why you and your solution are the best way to address them
3 support your claims with credible evidence.

If you were an evaluator, a statement that did all three would capture your full attention. You’d be keen to read on and learn more about how this bidder could help you. Not just that, but you’d probably be impressed – even at this early stage – and you would now be hoping that this could be the winning bid. That would be a great start, wouldn’t it?

But what if the statement covered 1 and 2 but failed to support the claims with credible evidence? As an evaluator, you might still be interested, but you’d probably also be sceptical about trusting this bidder with the work.

Similarly, imagine if a statement addressed the key issues and provided credible evidence, but didn’t differentiate the bidder from the competition. In that case, you’d have no reason to see this bidder as inherently better than the others, even if you had a potentially viable option on your hands. As a result, you might start focusing instead on who could give you the lowest price.

Finally, what about a statement that addressed issues that you didn’t care much about? Even if it went on to explain why the bidder was the best option for addressing those issues and gave credible evidence to support those claims – how much would that mean? Chances are, you’d simply want to move on to find a bidder that had focused on the issues that truly matter to you.
 



 

Memory aid

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to bring the three critical components to mind. Just remember that a theme statement must:

✓ resonate
✓ differentiate
✓ substantiate.

Resonate

To make your statement resonate with your customer, start with a clear benefit that they will get from your solution. Then bolster this by quantifying the benefits and linking them to your customer’s driving issues.

Differentiate

Explain to the customer why you are their best option for delivering this benefit. Otherwise, the customer might choose a competitor who seems to be able to deliver the same benefit equally well. (This is an even bigger risk if your competitor appears favourable in another way, such as being lower cost or a known quantity.)

To do this, you first need to find ways to differentiate your solution. Then, ideally, you need to link the customer benefits to genuinely unique features of your solution.

Your points of differentiation can relate to anything you will use to deliver the work, such as the people, equipment, software, facilities, methods or management systems involved.

Substantiate

To convince the customer that you are their best option, be sure to mention your strongest relevant evidence in the theme statement. This might include referencing performance reports, case studies, awards or testimonials.
 
The best advice for writing winning bids? Master theme statements and start every section with one. Bid-strategy expert Paul White @EmphasisWriting shows you how Click To Tweet
 

How to use theme statements to maximise your chances of winning

You can use theme statements in many ways to improve your odds of winning the opportunity.

Start every section with a theme statement

Summarising effectively is a key element of proposal writing. And theme statements are a key part of that process. In short: every section should begin with a summary and every summary should begin with a theme statement. Think about the theme statement as the opening line (or two) of your introductory summary in each section – the line that makes the reader want to read on. When you do that, you can see you should naturally include a theme statement at the start of every section of your proposal.

This sort of consistency also helps evaluators find what they’re looking for. If the first line of every section includes the key customer benefits, why you’re different (and better) and supporting evidence, evaluators will know exactly where to look to justify why they are recommending you.

Develop theme statements as an early part of content planning

Theme statements should never be an afterthought. You should work on developing the strongest possible theme statement for each proposal section before you even start drafting your response.

Understanding the main points you’re trying to express in each section will make it much easier to develop a coherent bid.

Don’t worry if it’s a bit wordy and clunky to begin with, though. You can refine the wording over time. The key thing is to identify the main message for each section and use that to develop each response.

Emphasise your theme statements

After all your hard work on your theme statements, don’t give the evaluator the slightest chance of missing them. Design your document to emphasise them, so your strongest points leap off the page. For example, highlight them with a different text style (size, colour, bold, italics) or within a text box. (Note, though, that your options will depend on the restrictions of each bid submission.)

Again, be consistent throughout the document. That way, the evaluators will quickly pick up on where to find this key information and look for it as they flick through the submission.
 

Strength is in specific detail

Remember, to have the best chance of winning an opportunity, you need to find the most credible ways to address the issues. (Resonate, differentiate, substantiate.) Detail increases credibility. And the more specific, the better. Compare these statements:

Version A

You will reduce costs through continuous improvement.

 

Version B

You will reduce costs by having a dedicated Continuous Improvement Manager, who delivered savings for [similar customer on similar project].

 

Version C

You will reduce costs by at least 6% each year by having a dedicated Continuous Improvement Manager: Christine Spencer. Christine delivered 9% year-on-year savings for [similar customer on similar project] by using our systematic approach to continuous improvement.

 

The last example is much stronger than the others because of the detailed level of customer understanding and because the proof is quantified.
 

Early work pays off

By now, you should have a sense of the power of theme statements. But remember that you can only write truly effective ones if you do all the necessary work beforehand.

And that’s another reason that theme statements are such an important discipline: they force you to invest the necessary effort in the opportunity.

If you are always striving to develop the strongest possible theme statement for every proposal section, then you’re going to need to do certain other things as well.

You’ll need to identify the customer decision-makers and their driving issues. You’ll need to assess your company’s capability to deliver against those driving issues. You’ll need to do the same for your competitors so that you can identify the key competitive differentiators. You’ll need to develop strategies to make the most of your strengths and to mitigate your weaknesses. And you’ll need to identify the strongest evidence you can use to prove to the customer that you are their best option.

And once you’ve done all that, you’ll have taken a huge step towards winning the bid – even before you’ve started drafting your proposal responses.


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