How to develop your key messages and winning themes

Posted by Oliver Hogue on 09/04/2017
tender writing, key messages, themes

Too many tender submissions fall into the trap of using rote phrases and arguments to pad out their bids. “We deliver a service second to none” and “we understand you better than anyone else” are unsubstantiated, hackneyed phrases that will likely relegate a bid to the bottom of the pile.

What’s needed are winning themes, the key message engines that deliver your bid. “Our experience gives us a winning edge” is a message that can be supported with detailed facts and testimonials.

Let’s take a look at the concept of the winning theme, and how it connects to the overall bid strategy.

Strategies, winning themes and backing them up

A winning theme, also known as a win theme, is a specific, tactical message that supports your overall bid strategy. Before you begin proposal writing, you need at least three winning themes based on your bid strategy, along with facts to support them.

If your bid strategy is that your business has the most efficient way of meeting the requirements because of its industry experience (“our experience gives us a winning edge”), then this needs to be supported with project case studies, references from former clients, partnerships developed over the years and testimonials from leading industry professionals.

Every win theme you create should be backed up with facts. “We deliver a service second to none” is meaningless. However, “we have placed first in national industry awards for the past five years, and are accredited to the new ISO standard” takes the boast of the first statement and turns it into a definable, checkable fact.

Features and benefits

Features and benefits both inform the selection of winning themes. To make a distinction between the two, a feature is a characteristic of the business that demonstrates it has the capacity to deliver what’s needed. It’s like a sticker on a new car that indicates ABS brakes, engine capacity or air bags.

A benefit on the other hand is a quality that the features delivery – better road handling, more power and increased safety. Usually, it’s the benefits that the client is interested in because they tend to align more with requirements such as “we need to get this rail service running on time.”

So a tender statement that claims it can deliver 98% delivery of services within five minutes of scheduled time is going to attract the attention of the client, who will then look more closely to see how you propose to achieve it.

How to develop a win theme

The way to develop a win theme is to get close to the client and find out what matters most to them. You do this by consulting the tender request, but you need to cast the net further for a more refined winning theme.

Do research on the client: find out what’s concerning them most. Imagine you find out that the last few times they put out a tender the results were disastrous. The winning bidders made novice mistakes, such as not applying for the planning permits in time, or hiring labour from outside an authoritative trade union.

In such a circumstance the ‘we are experienced’ strategy would be a good one. While addressing the other requirements of the tender such as cost, regulatory compliance, technical ability and staff skills, the theme of experience should be reiterated where possible throughout the bid.

Every bid proposal starts with the winning themes

You generate the winning themes by asking questions. Is the client most concerned about regulatory changes in the industry? Community stakeholder relationships? Do they have a vision for the project that might lead to other projects and does your company have the power to deliver those too?

The answers to these questions should be made succinctly in your bid. Brevity is critical – no tender review panel wants to read page after pages of opinion and conjecture to get to the handful of verifiable fact on offer. If the response to a winning theme is “so what?” then it’s not compelling enough.

At their essence, winning themes are marketing statements supported by facts that offer the solution the client is looking for. Identifying them correctly can give you a head start in the competitive business of tendering




Certified Bid Writer