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Office add-on makes a sales call

Microsoft releases one of the first "Solution Accelerator" packages for Office 2003, aimed at helping sales professionals create better proposals.

Microsoft released one of the first add-on packages for the new version of its Office productivity software: a collection of software and services aimed at helping sales professionals create better proposals.

The package, available Monday as a free download for Office 2003 customers enrolled in Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing program, is part of the Office Solution Accelerator Program that the company announced shortly before the release of the new Office System.

Under that program, Microsoft will work with partners to combine Office applications with additional software and services aimed at specific business tasks. Planned packages include tools for creating financial reports and administering compliance projects for new Sarbanes-Oxley Act accounting rules.

The packages tap into new XML (Extensible Markup Language) capabilities in Office that let applications directly access Web services and corporate data. Microsoft is relying on partnerships with a range of technology companies to exploit such capabilities.

The new Office Solution Accelerator for Proposals includes templates and tools to help sales professionals create proposals, including guidelines for building services that cull data from corporate databases to ensure that proposals reflect the latest facts and figures.

"It helps the sales teams to automate part of the proposal development process," said Ingo Friedrichowitz,

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product planning manager. "You use XML and Web services to tap into the corporate knowledge base."

The package also taps into Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server collaboration software to save proposals in a central location that can be accessed by all members of a sales team.

"It's focused on solving a very specific business problem sales professionals have, so they can write proposals in a faster way and spend more time with clients," Friedrichowitz said.