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Microsoft Floors the Pedal For Sales Force

For years, marketing teams have been rallying their troops behind the all-important sales proposal process, which has relied heavily on Microsoft Office tools like Word and PowerPoint for the creation of those pitches. But with the new release of the Office 2003 System, Microsoft is trying to alter the workflow landscape and bring in new tools that will help re-engineer the process.

The latest tool, Microsoft Office Solutions Accelerator for Proposals, is to be unveiled on Monday. With it, the Redmond, Wash., giant hopes sales professionals will begin to embrace the concept of online collaboration -- a central theme behind the new Office 2003 System. In doing so, Microsoft is hoping to help its customers increase their "win" rate on those sales pitches.

And with 9 out of 10 sales and marketing proposals already done in Word, Microsoft had a pretty easy decision as to which Office component to focus its Accelerator. Using a combination of code, components, templates and architectural guidance, customers of Microsoft Office Professional Edition can create and manage fully customizable solutions for all of the other suite's components through InfoPath -- the XML-based module used to define Web services schemas.

"It doesn't change the process; it just makes it more effective," explained Ingo Friedrichowitz, sales solution planning manager at Microsoft. "The real differentiator is now all of these functions are done from within Word."

As with its other Office Solutions Accelerators like the HR/Recruiting package and the Excel-based XBRL package just released last week, Microsoft is trying get sales and marketing teams to bring more of their everyday duties into the digital realm from brainstorming sessions to the final presentations.

The Sales/Proposal Accelerator solution makes use of two major components: the collaborative SharePoint platform and the task pane used to search and manage the content library. As a result, the new package will help sales professionals fully automate proposal development; collaborate on and manage one or more proposals from start to finish; and update a shared corporate knowledge base. For example, proposal writers can easily ascertain the most current legal and product information.

Early adopters of the technology have experienced productivity gains of 20 to 50 percent, Friedrichowitz told internetnews.com. Early customers include Activiti, Ernst Young Technologies, Geniant, Immedient, K2IS, Shipley Associates and Statera. Microsoft also relied on five strategic partners in particular to develop the solution: Pragmatech Software, Quilogy, Sant Corporation, Wipro Technologies and Xerox Global Services.

Office Solution Accelerator for Proposals is available mainly for customers who have licensed Office System 2003 under Microsoft's Software Assurance program. However, customers who want to try it can also do so under a test/developer license.