Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to detail the rationale for, and development of, the Export Marketing Profiling System; a methodology for profiling and benchmarking the capabilities of small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs) to compete internationally. Design/methodology/approach – It is the outcome of four years of research, incorporating quantitative, qualitative and longitudinal studies into the international activities of SMEs. Findings – The findings of this research are utilised in the development of a system that recognises key themes and distils them into the specific characteristics, competencies, capabilities and activities that contribute to successful performance in international markets. Originality/value – The value of this system lies in the population of a large database of SMEs that have been profiled using in‐depth interviews. This enables users to profile and benchmark a company's export capabilities against other SMEs. It has been piloted successfully in the Yorkshire and The Humber region as part of the Regional International Trade Strategy and has also been disseminated to business support agencies in the UK and Europe, where it is currently used to identify support needs and evaluate the impact of specific interventions over time.
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