Next Generation Trade Intelligence Portal

Your online guide

Step 1: Situational assessment

Learning points 

  • Assessment of your priority clients.
  • Identification of information need.
  • Methodologies for needs assessment.
  • Mapping of information service providers.
  • Benchmarking of your information service.
  • Internal assessment.

Towards added value

Most likely, your organization has a portal for some time already. Nevertheless you sense that improvements are possible. But where to start…? An important step to take is to develop or optimise your portal strategy (Step 2), enabling more focus and priorities. This first Step explains how to conduct a proper situational assessment. It helps you to re-think who your target audiences are and what information requirements they have. Benchmarking against what others offer is also part of this exercise. Learn from the best and determine your added value!

Who is your information client?

First things first. Who do you try to serve with your information offer? It is likely that there are multiple groups, with different needs. For example, your target audience may include:

  • Established exporters
  • Aspiring exporters
  • Policy makers
  • Government agencies
  • Sector associations
  • Foreign buyers
  • Investors
  • Press
  • International donor agencies
  • Students.

The information need of these client groups differs. Assuming you have limited resources, it will be challenging to satisfy the different needs to the same degree. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize and come up with a ranking. For instance, establish a hierarchy of the top three target groups.

What is the trade information need?

Once you have prioritized the target groups, you need to determine their information needs:

  • What are the main topics that your priority clients need information about?
  • Are there specific markets or sectors that require special attention?

These information areas should then also be qualified in terms of importance. What is the hierarchy?

Full report or highlight only? 

Apart from the information need, it is important to determine the preference of:

  • Formats, the way the information is packaged
  • Dissemination channels
  • Frequency of publication and updating

For example: Do your priority target groups prefer concise reports with highlights over comprehensive and detailed reports? Do they prefer to receive trade information via the website, social media or email alerts? Do they prefer to have weekly or daily updates for example through blog posts?

Methodologies for needs assessment

There are different ways to identify needs among your priority client groups. These range from:

  • Conducting questionnaires
  • Holding interviews
  • Organizing focus group discussions
  • Registering requests for information
  • Tracking of search and browse behaviour

The problem frequently faced with questionnaires, whether they are conducted online or off-line, is that response rates tend to be low, in the range of 5-10%. Besides that, answers given may not reflect actual behaviour. Personal interviews are more effective, yet costly and time consuming.


Australia“We combine focus groups, reports from our call centres and online analytics to gauge the needs of our users. We wish we could conduct more focus groups, especially with our international customers…”

- Emma Palmer, Website Manager, Austrade

Conducting focus group sessions with a selected group of priority users may be the best alternative. It is also a widely used methodology by leading trade promotion organisations around the world. Especially in combination with other approaches like:

  • registration of requests for information that your organization receives (subject and intensity)
  • tracking of website searches and actual browse behaviour on the website (most popular pages, downloads, frequently asked questions etc.).

Download assessment form

Customer satisfaction and your performance

Once you have determined the priority clients and their most important information needs, it is time to reflect on your current trade information offer. Is what you offer in terms of scope, depth, and the way you offer it in terms of formats and frequencies, in accordance with the needs of your priority clients? What is their rating of your performance in terms of customer satisfaction?

Your added value: be different from others

Equally important, you should determine to what extent the information you provide – and the way you provide it – has added value over the information offer of other service providers. In other words: What is the added value of your information offer?

In that respect, it is very valuable to invite your target customers to map and qualify the information services, which are available to them. It will put your trade information service in perspective and offer insights into areas where your service could be optimized, where there are gaps and where syndication with other parties could be pursued to minimize duplication of efforts.

Download mapping form information service providers

Usability testing

As part of assessing your online trade information performance, you are also advised to go through some usability testing. Ideally, this takes place in a focus group setting whereby you confront a selection of your priority customers with your Trade Intelligence Portal. The main purpose is to find out whether they can easily find the information they need and whether they use the functionalities and your calls to action effectively. By providing assignments to find specific pieces of information or to apply specific tools or checkers, and by observing and discussing the navigation of the users and the end-results, you will receive valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t.

Good practice

Tip: eye-tracking

A methodology that can be used for usability testing is so-called eye-tracking. It gives detailed insights into what draws the attention of the user when browsing a website. As a result one develops a better understanding of how the presentation of information, navigation and calls to action can be improved. It is a methodology used by several trade promotion bodies around the world including Netherlands Enterprise Agency in The Netherlands.

Benchmarking against other information service providers

You are strongly advised to benchmark against other trade information providers. This process results in good practices, lessons learned and, last but not least, inspiration for further improvements.

You can benchmark against organisations in your country, in the region, or even other continents. Ideally, the benchmarking takes place against similar organisations, with a similar target group, and portfolio of services. However, you can off course also learn from other organisations that differ in scope, sector, service portfolio, size and budget.


Gerard O Brian“When benchmarking other Trade Intelligence Portals it is important to go beyond the design and look and feel aspect and consider the content (who is the contributor, in-house or outsourced), the technology (Content Management System) and functionalities (like e-learning, ecommerce) that may require customization and hence impact on the required budget…”

- Gerard O’Brien – Enterprise Ireland on benchmarking of Trade Intelligence Portals

Internal assessment

Once you have conducted the external assessments with your user groups and the benchmark with similar organisations, it is time to do your internal assessment. Some of the key issues to assess are:

  • Do you have a strategy with SMART objectives for your Trade Intelligence Portal including customer satisfaction?
  • Do you have an effective management structure and work processes in place for the technical, content and quality management of the Trade Intelligence Portal?
  • Do you actively monitor and evaluate usage/performance of the portal by means of online analytics?
  • Do you have adequate human resources with the required knowledge and skills to achieve the objectives?
  • Do you have an active involvement of your overseas foreign trade network (commercial counsellors) in producing trade information?
  • Do you have an adequate budget to achieve the objectives, including staff training, maintenance, and promotion?
  • Do you have a user-friendly content management system and adequate technical facilities in-house or outsourced to sustain a reliable performance of the online service?
  • Do you have an integration of the Trade Intelligence Portal with a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system to allow for effective and efficient customization of information services (e.g. alerts) ?

Determine gaps and improvement areas

On the basis of the external and internal assessment, you will be able to identify gaps and improvement areas. This will be the basis for defining your Trade Intelligence Portal strategy. Of course a lot will depend on your level of ambition and resources available. More about the strategy in Step 2.

Highlights Step 1 - Situational Assessment

  • Prioritize your target customers
  • Determine the information need of your priority customers through a combination of focus groups with semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, registration of information requests, and online analytics of search and browse behaviour
  • Evaluate customer satisfaction and your added value
  • Benchmark against other trade information providers
  • Carry out usability testing
  • Conduct an internal assessment focusing on the strategy, structure, systems, skills and management of the Trade Intelligence Portal
  • Determine gaps and improvement areas

Make use of ITC expertise

Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?

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