This is a continuation of the previous podcasts on developing a strategy. In this podcast, I’m focusing on Themes, Hot Buttons and what the Client really wants.

Developing a strategy for your response is one of the most important things you’ll do. Simply putting words on paper won’t get the attention you need to win proposals.

In this episode, I’m covering three of the things you need to do to develop a winning proposal strategy – Wants, Themes & Hot Buttons

What does the client want?

It isn’t always what it seems. What the client says in the proposal and what they may have said in public statements may be somewhat different from what they really want from the RFP. You need to read between the lines and use other sources to find out exactly what’s important to them client. For instance, the client frequently states that price is not necessarily the deciding factor. You can be assured, however, that price will be a key factor and will almost always influence the decision.

With this in mind, for instance, you can structure your proposal with optional services and alternative pricing structures to meet the client’s needs. Other information you find about the client and what they really want or need can be used in your proposal to develop a response that is more effective than the competition’s.

What are the critical Themes?

The purpose of establishing themes is to ensure your message is delivered within each question you’re responding to in the RFP.

Themes are compelling messages you want to continually put in front of the client while they’re reading the proposal. It’s like running repetitive advertisements to get better exposure for your product or service. The real strategy is to ensure the client remembers the messages when they’re scoring your proposal.

Themes also help anyone writing material for you, whether they’re staff or subcontractors, to understand what your main message is and hopefully see ways to incorporate it into their contribution, making the overall process easier for you while also strengthening the proposal.

Themes are things that provide support to your overall proposal, show your benefit or competitive advantage, or are important to the client. They demonstrate why the client should select you, and should be directly related to client issues, needs or expectations.

The themes should be woven throughout your entire proposal. Depending on what they are, you can simply write them into the text, or add a separate heading within each section or question to focus on that theme.

Your theme is a consistent message about what the client cares about:

If, for example, Information Technology, data and reporting are important to the client and your strategy is to demonstrate it, add a heading in each section to explain how your solution deals with the topic and benefits the client. Use the same approach for anything else that is key to winning your bid

Develop your themes during your strategic planning and strategy sessions. The information in the RFP documents and what the client has told you are only two sources for effective themes. You must look at the client’s business, the history of the current service contract, news releases, annual reports, industry issues and your competitors. Get insight from your staff and, where possible, contacts who used to work for the client or even the incumbent, if possible.

What are their Hot Buttons?

Hot buttons are the most pressing and important issues facing the client. You may not be able to identify them from reading the RFP or from listening to what the client tells you. Like themes, identifying hot buttons requires research.

Hot buttons are different than themes. While themes are overall issues you typically repeat throughout your proposal, hot buttons are usually single-issue items that are dealt with in specific parts of the proposal response.

You will win more business by showing you understand the client’s key issues and by demonstrating how you support the client’s issues or can mitigate them with your service or product solution

The hot buttons aren’t always directly related to the requirements of the RFP. They may be something else you’ve learned about the client that really matters to them. If so, you can discuss that in your proposal, demonstrating your understanding of the client and the advantages you can provide.

You need to understand your specific client’s hot buttons. For instance, If accountability legislation for public companies is a hot button for the client and they must adhere to it, you should clearly identify what you’re doing within your organization that will support the client’s requirements, or show that you’re in compliance with the same requirement.

A hot button can be either something the client wants or needs and is interested in, or something the client badly wants to avoid.

General industry hot buttons are also important For instance, environmental issues are one of the timely hot buttons of interest to many clients. Clients may be fighting negative press about their environmental record, or striving to lead the industry with green initiatives. Either way, if you can emphasize how you can help, you will be hitting the client’s hot button.

Once you’ve identified the hot buttons and how you plan to address them within your proposal response, list them on a checklist to make sure you address all of them.

Similar to other important information within your RFP document, make sure that when you’re addressing a hot button issue, it’s clear within your proposal response. Don’t bury it with other material or hide it in long paragraphs. Use a heading, breakout box or other technique to direct the client’s attention towards it. Use the techniques discussed in Part 7 to highlight how you address hot button issues.

In the next podcast, I’ll discuss more strategies you should develop before you start writing a proposal. Don’t make the mistake of writing backwards – know your strategy first, then write, not the other way around.


Our Book "Win More Business - Write Better Proposals". is now available at Amazon in many countries, including the USA , Canada, UK, Japan, Germany and France. You can also order it directly from the author on this website

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