What should your proposal themes actually say?

Once you understand what proposal themes are and how they contribute to winning, then comes the hard part: articulating your message in the form of theme statements.

When we review people’s proposals we see a lot of theme statements that are either:

  • Grandiose statements that sound like bragging and are completely unsubstantiated. Like being the largest, best-industry leader ever. Or:
  • Bland, boring statements that the customer should pick the company submitting the proposal without explaining why. So much blah, blah, blah.

Both of them are a result of trying to describe yourself in favorable terms or how you want to be seen. They don’t provide any value to the customer or help them make their decision. They do nothing for you and can actually work against you.

They come from not understanding how to articulate your message. The best way to approach writing theme statements is to give the customer information that they can use.

Theme statements should focus on reasons. When you try to write a theme statement about why you are better than your competitors, instead of focusing on claiming that you are better, focus on providing reasons why you are better. Instead of saying that your offering is great, explain how it is great.

When you are the customer, you don’t care if the sales person thinks their product is great. You expect them to think it is better than everyone else’s. But you ignore that and make your decision. You make your decision based on how it is great or why it is better. Your theme statements should provide that information to them.

The best theme statements tell the customer what they are going to get. They don’t offer commitment, understanding, enthusiasm, flattery, promises, universal statements that apply equally to your competitors, or even attributes like quality. They don’t tell the customer what they require or patronize them by telling them who they are. The best themes offer results. They make the customer want you by telling them what they will get if they select you. If you leave out what they are going to get, then there is nothing there for them to want.

The next time you are trying to formulate the message you want to deliver to the customer, focus on what the customer wants from you, instead of what you want to tell them. Theme statements should say things that matter — to the customer. Unsubstantiated claims do not matter to the customer. In fact, they get in the customer’s way when they are looking for what matters about your proposal.

A good test for whether you are successful is whether you can delete the theme statements from the proposal. If you can delete the theme statements without removing something vital from the proposal, then your theme statements do not matter. If your theme statements do not matter, then there is no reason to select you.

That is the strongest argument I can think of for why you should write your theme statements first, before the text of your proposal. If you need the text of your proposal to articulate the reasons why the customer should select you, this means when the proposal writers started they didn’t know either.


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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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