Strategy and Win Themes

Opportunity/capture strategy is a plan or method for achieving a goal. Strategy and tactics are often confused. In the purest sense, opportunity/capture strategy is your pre-engagement position; tactics are the actions you take to implement your strategy to convey it persuasively during opportunity/capture development and planning.

As intelligence improves, opportunity/capture strategy evolves and competitive focus matures, driving improved strategy and win themes. Proposal strategy aligns and evolves from opportunity/capture strategy. Proposal strategy is a plan to write a persuasive, winning proposal.

Introduction

Strategy is inextricably linked to the customer, competitor, and bidder capability assessments developed in the opportunity/capture plan. Each time those assessments are updated, strategies and associated win themes must be reassessed. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis, whether formal or informal, provides the information you need to create both opportunity and proposal strategies.

As you move from the opportunity/capture planning phase to the proposal planning and development phases of the business development lifecycle, opportunity/capture strategies will influence proposal strategies, and win themes will influence proposal themes.

Proposal strategy statements are tools for verbalizing your win strategies in a way that helps everyone on your team understand how the bid will succeed. For example, you might create an early opportunity/capture strategy statement that says, “To mitigate our company’s weakness in training delivery, we will team with a small, disadvantaged business already known to the customer.”

Best Practices

1. Develop opportunity/capture strategies and win themes early.

When your company has committed to pursuing a specific opportunity, assemble your team to brainstorm the best ways to position yourself to win. Using a bidder comparison matrix (BCM) and SWOT analysis, determine specific actions that you will perform to improve your win probability. Document those actions in strategy statement templates that describe the following:

  • What you will do to leverage strengths against each item of importance to the customer
  • What you will do to mitigate weaknesses against those items
  • What you will do to exploit opportunities (weaknesses exhibited by competitors) against those items
  • What you will do to counter threats (strengths exhibited by competitors)

At this stage, these descriptions point to tactics or actions that the opportunity/capture team needs to deploy to improve your position. They will point to win themes and proposal strategies, theme statements, and trade studies, and—later—ghosting.

Selling an offer focused on innovation is very different from protecting an incumbent position, so a unifying concept is important to keep your themes on message. Poll your team for a single word or two that summarizes your opportunity strategy. When you have chosen one, make sure that everyone understands it. It might be as simple as “innovate” or “change the game,” but that word or statement provides a launching point for everything you say about your offer going forward. All of your win themes should link back to that single unifying concept.

Expand your unifying concept into an elevator speech. Using opportunity/capture strategy statements as a guide, write down and distribute a brief statement that summarizes your win strategies. Early in the process, it is enough to have a unified story to tell. As you collaborate with the customer and intelligence improves, your elevator speech will evolve to include quantified benefits.

2. Distinguish between opportunity/capture strategy and proposal strategy.

Opportunity/capture strategy is an action-oriented plan for capturing a specific opportunity. It starts with your pre-competition position and identifies actions that should be carried out (both internally and with the customer) to identify the customer’s perception of your organization and your solution. With this understanding, opportunity/capture strategy can be developed to:

  • Emphasize your strengths
  • Mitigate your weaknesses
  • Highlight your competitors’ weaknesses
  • Downplay your competitors’ strengths

Proposal strategy is your plan for what to include in the written responses to create a persuasive, winning proposal. Proposal strategy evolves from your opportunity/capture strategy and describes and confirms successful tactics and actions from the pre-engagement phase. In a proposal, you should be conveying identical, aligned information in words, text, and graphics. Hence, the proposal strategy evolves from the opportunity/capture strategy.

3. Identify a “killer” opportunity/capture strategy early and refine it as intelligence improves.

The litmus test of the very best opportunity/capture strategy is that if it were revealed to the competition, it would damage your chances of winning.

If your opportunity/capture strategy is not at that level, refocus your interactions with the customer to find a “killer” strategy. An example of this would be to convince the buyer to specify a single component available only through your company. You would then be able to manipulate the price of that item to competitors to ensure that you have the lowest price. In this instance, if competitors learned of this strategy prior to solicitation, they would work to overturn the requirement, thus damaging your chances of winning.

This kind of change in the opportunity environment should trigger a change in opportunity/capture strategies. Other changes could include the following:

  • New players in the competition
  • Personnel changes at the customer organization
  • Legislation
  • Shifts in public opinion and other factors

Evaluate each change for effect on your existing opportunity/capture strategies and win themes.

As new and better information becomes available, assess it to determine your ability to identify discriminators and other quantified benefits needed to flesh out your win themes. Also, remember to reevaluate your opportunity/capture strategy statements as better competitive intelligence is developed. This may offer new direction for some win themes or eliminate others.

4. Use feedback from opportunity/capture plan reviews and competitor reviews to focus your strategies and win themes.

Additional insights from opportunity/capture plan reviews and competitor reviews can help hone your win themes and often establish new discriminators. See opportunity/capture plans for more information on these reviews.

Outside evaluators will offer new perspectives on your strategies and themes. Sometimes these perspectives can overturn your entire approach based on new information that evaluators bring to the reviews. But more often, they will confirm your approach and strengthen your opportunity/capture strategies.

5. Draft specific proposal statements that define both “what” you will do and “how” you will do it.

Like opportunity/capture strategy, proposal strategy can be implemented in four fundamental ways. This strategy should form part of the proposal outline and/or content plan to:

  • Emphasize your strengths
  • Mitigate your weaknesses
  • Highlight your competitors’ weaknesses
  • Downplay your competitors’ strengths

Effective proposal strategy statements incorporate both strategic and tactical aspects. The strategic portion establishes your position. The tactical portion defines the specific actions you will take. Think of the strategic part as “what” you will do and the tactical part as “how” you will do it.

Proposal Strategy Example

What:

We will emphasize our perceived ability to complete the design-build of a distribution center on time.

How/By:

  • Including in our proposal photos of the XYZ distribution center in Orlando, Florida
  • Citing three other distribution centers in a table in our proposal, including the center, place, owner, promised completion date, and actual completion date
  • Listing in our proposal contact names, phone numbers, and quotes verifying our on-time completion of three similar projects

A well-written proposal strategy statement enables the reader and writer to visualize how the strategy will appear on a page. For example:

  • “Describe” or “discuss” in a proposal strategy statement implies that text or longer-form content will be used
  • “Show” in a proposal strategy statement could precede a graphic, sketch, drawing, or photo
  • “Include” could set up a table, flowchart, or graph
  • Emphasize citations or quotes with text boxes, formatting, or white space

If you cannot visualize the page, refine the strategy statement.

In terms of implementation, the way you emphasize your strengths may be identical to how you highlight a competitor’s weakness. Similarly, how you mitigate your weakness may be identical to how you neutralize a competitor’s strength, as demonstrated in the following examples:

Proposal Strategy Example

Your competitor has a reasonable reputation for completing projects within budget. Your organization recently had a cost overrun on a similar project. The strategy statement to mitigate your weakness and downplay the competitor’s strength might be the same.

Proposal Strategy Statement Example

We will mitigate our perceived weakness in completing similar projects within budget by:

  • Citing lessons learned from the recent ABC project
  • Including a table listing all materials and subcontract tasks that have been pre-negotiated prior to submittal

We will downplay our competitor’s perceived strength in completing similar projects within budget by:

  • Citing lessons learned from the recent ABC project
  • Including a table listing all materials and subcontract tasks that have been pre-negotiated prior to submittal

A well-developed proposal strategy will help to identify and confirm where there are ghosting opportunities using independent evidence, such as trade studies or industry analyst reports. It will also help to confirm and develop further any potential proposal theme statements that were identified in the opportunity strategy.

Use a proposal strategy statement template to ensure consistency and comprehension for readers, writers, and reviewers (see Figure 1).

Proposal Strategy Template

We will emphasize our perceived strength in (issue) as a result of (discriminator) by:

  • XXX
  • YYY
  • ZZZ

We will mitigate our perceived weakness in (issue) as a result of (discriminator) by:

  • XXX
  • YYY
  • ZZZ

We will highlight our competitors’ perceived weaknesses in (issue) as a result of (discriminator) by:

  • XXX
  • YYY
  • ZZZ

We will downplay our competitors’ perceived strengths in (issue) as a result of (discriminator) by:

  • XXX
  • YYY
  • ZZZ

Figure 1. Proposal Strategy Template. Using the SWOT or BCM, identify your relative position against each of your competitors as early as possible. Proposal strategy statements should be developed for the kickoff meeting so they can be used to help direct content outlining and/or content planning.

6. Build proposal strategies for anticipated response requirements and for ghosting the competition.

Allocate each piece of evidence identified in your four proposal strategies to where it should appear in the proposal as soon as the proposal outline has been developed. This will help the proposal contributors understand the evidence required when they are developing content for the requirements.

Perform competitive studies and collect independent evidence of your findings to “ghost” the competition effectively. The effort to compare your offerings with those of competitors will help quantify the benefits you bring. Externally validated evidence removes subjectivity and is more convincing in customer documents. For ethical reasons, competitors are not typically named in a proposal; however, this guidance is overcome when the evidence included in the proposal is independent.

As draft solicitation documents become available, use the feedback from review teams and return to your strategy statements to refine them.

7. Design a proposal cover and a key graphic that reflect your overall offer and overarching theme.

Earlier in the process, you chose a one- or two-word theme that was the basis of your elevator speech. If you have not already done so, create a customer-focused cover for the proposal and a key graphic that summarizes your offer.

The process of representing your concepts visually will help you further sharpen your message. In addition, visuals will kick-start your executive summary mock-up and the transition of opportunity plans to proposal plans.

8. Carefully transition the proposal strategy and win themes into proposal content, your final proposal response, and contract negotiations.

The best-laid opportunity/capture plans are not always transitioned into proposal plans. When that happens, customers who have been communicating with your company may be confused by a proposal that does not match the expectations that your team has set.

Avoid this by carefully mapping proposal strategy statements and win themes all the way through to technical, management, and price solutions during contract negotiations. This may mean that you need a three- or four-level pricing strategy or plan to reduce technical scope. You must know before bidding what you will deliver on the contract and at what price.

Best practice is to develop a strategy for every possible outcome and for every competitor you may encounter. This is not always practical, but it strengthens your proposal. If the process must be abbreviated, follow these steps to ensure a firm and convincing proposal strategy:
  • Identify the customer’s hot-button issues
  • Build a BCM or SWOT to identify the customer’s perception of your organization and the competition’s discriminators

As you carry out these analyses, add scenarios. What would happen if the customer:

  • Did nothing? Your proposal strategy should describe how hot-button issues will (or will not be) addressed if nothing changed
  • Completed the work in-house? In your proposal strategy, remind the customer what it would entail to complete the work with its own headcount, equipment, real estate, etc. Use independent research or industry white papers as proof
  • Only awarded part of the contract? Through your proposal strategy, you can help the customer understand that awarding only part of the contract may cost less but is unlikely to deliver all the desired outcomes

In addition, develop strategies to account for different competitive positions. For example:

  • Incumbent bidders should remember that winning the last contract is not necessarily a strength. It’s important to reinforce what has been achieved during the contract. Include contract-specific examples, plus evidence from other work. As the incumbent, you will have some advantages and some disadvantages; therefore, a strategy should be developed for the current proposal as carefully as it was for the original contract. Your strategy should “ghost” the competition and their likely approaches to winning the contract from you.
  • As a teaming partner, consideration should be given as to whether your partners are exclusive or not. Some teaming partners may be providing content to multiple bidders, or partners may decide to also bid on their own. Both cases should be treated as competition; your organization should build strategies that support the teaming decision as well as strategies that “ghost” the competing organization.

Be adaptive and creative when developing your proposal strategy. Remember, it’s about building and providing objective evidence for a logical and justifiable argument as to why the customer should buy from you.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

When partnering is completed late in the process, development of the proposal strategy may be missed or skipped completely. This can lead to poor quality and unsubstantiated, generic content from the partnering organization. No matter how short the timeframe, it is important for the Bid or Proposal Manager to engage with all teaming partners to develop proposal strategies; content plans, if appropriate; and proposal outlines.

Summary

  • Strategies and win themes evolve from opportunity/capture positioning actions into written words and statements that describe evidence-based solution strategies and themes for the entire opportunity environment
  • The litmus test of the best proposal strategy is that if it were revealed to the competition, it would damage your chances of winning
  • If the requirements or competitive field changes, review and repeat your BCM or SWOT analyses to confirm that your opportunity/capture and proposal strategy statements are still aligned. Be prepared for this to happen continuously during opportunity/capture development as new information becomes available about the competition
  • Translate themes developed during the opportunity/capture development phase into proposal theme statements for each major section of the proposal. Use quantified benefit statements in customer-focused themes
  • Ensure your proposal strategies and themes are clear and consistent throughout the proposal and all the way to contract negotiations
  • Bid and/or Proposal Managers should engage with teaming partners to develop consistent, quality content

Terms to Know

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