Proposal themes & discriminators

One of the most important, but often times neglected aspects of a proposal effort is the formulation, articulation and incorporation of themes.

Themes make inferior approaches obvious, drive us to more superior approaches and force us to relate features to benefits. Themes are:

  • Substantiated sales message, point of emphasis, advantage, unique or superior benefit or supported claim/discriminator
  • Artfully woven throughout the proposal, transmittal letter, and cover graphic to unify and focus the message throughout the proposal
  • Direct; they address program issues or customer concerns and are supportable with concrete evidence
  • A tool to demonstrate your strengths and the competition’s weaknesses (also known as ghosting opportunities)
  • Resonate with the proposal instructions (RFP section L) and proposal evaluation criteria (RFP section M)

The best themes can also become your discriminator(s). They are:

  • Non-trivial in the customer’s eyes
  • Unique to the company or team
  • Believable and easily defendable
  • Something the competition does not possess
  • Clearly identified and substantiated in the proposal

Some typical top-level themes are:

  • Low risk
  • Our company can save you money
  • Our company can save you time
  • Our company can increase system performance
  • Best value
  • Technical excellence
  • Technology application
  • Innovation
  • Ability to integrate all program/project functions
  • Accurate reporting
  • Reliable performance data
  • Superior past performance
  • Customer understanding
  • End-user knowledge
  • Program insight
  • System infrastructure insight
  • Effective change management
  • Quality
  • Corporate commitment
  • Cost savings
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Ethical conduct
  • Environmental stewardship
  • Excellent safety record
  • Fiscal stewardship
  • Business process engineering
  • Done this for you before or for someone else
  • Detailed understanding of elements of success required to meet all major milestones
  • Disciplined step by step processes
  • Low risk approach
  • Customer confidence in our people
  • Time saved or money on similar programs
  • Evidence of continued improvement

Some examples of technical themes are:

  • How well our company understands the requirements
  • What our company proposes to do – our innovative approach is based on (insert unique methodology or toolset)
  • How our company proposes to do it
  • Disciplined, step-by-step processes (illustrate them)
  • Application of technology and automated tools
  • Specialized software
  • Broad experience with hardware and software
  • Quality assurance methodology

Some examples of management themes are:

  • Corporate commitment
  • Organizational design and rationale including client interface
  • Top level project visibility
  • Access to top management
  • Reduced customer oversight
  • Partnership
  • Organizational efficiency (span of control, task management and role of teammates)
  • Project team qualifications
  • Prime contractor management and subcontractor management performance
  • The project manager
  • Key managers
  • Financial control methods and track record
  • Management experience with similar scope of work

Some examples of personnel themes are:

  • Collective qualifications
  • Total person-years’ related experience
  • Multi-disciplinary team capable of executing and managing the program holistically
  • Quantified specialized skill/experience
  • Total size of team employee work force
  • Project manager and key people
  • Individual commitment
  • Recruiting capabilities
  • Retention rates
  • Bench strength
  • Breadth and depth of talent pool
  • Attractive benefit programs

Some examples of past performance themes are:

  • Overall corporate experience
  • Years in business
  • Total number of contracts performed
  • Total number of relevant contracts
  • Total number person years relevant experience
  • Performance record
  • Service is our only business
  • Past experience with this client
  • Quotes from customers
  • Reliability
  • Number/types of deliverables
  • Lessons learned
  • Transition experience
  • Reduced learning curve
  • Positive Contractor Performance Assessment Rating System (CPAR) ratings
  • Initiatives and innovations
  • Breadth of experience

 – M. Lisagor


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