Actionable Intelligence: Do’s and Don’t’s For the Sales Manager Minute

Education Corner

By Scott Rosenberg

The first key segment of any BNI meeting is the Sales Manager Minutes, where members and guests alike get to introduce themselves by way of a minute-long “elevator pitch.” You introduce yourself and your business, ask for referrals, and wrap it up with a reintroduction and a tidy slogan. The central part of this process is always “the ask.” It is each member’s one consistent opportunity to advise the group on how it can best help to grow that member’s business.

The official BNI materials offer some broad guidance for the ask, such as starting with “a good referral for me this week is…” or avoiding asking for the generic “somebody/anybody who ________,” but I think that fails to fully capture the ways that this moment of spotlight gets used both effectively or poorly as a tool to grow members’ business.  For my money, the operations of the CIA make for a far better comparison

We are Seal Team Six

I liken the mechanics of the BNI referral process to the CIA because it reminds us of a valid point which is hard to forget.  Consider the war on terror: a search for specific, sometimes unknown targets amongst a sea of innocent bystanders.  How do they do that?  They act on what they know.  They put out feelers and follow-up on leads.  They’re ready to go on a moment’s notice, and should a target make itself blatantly obvious, that’s exactly what they do.  But other than that, they’re waiting on actionable intelligence in order to make their next move.

A good BNI chapter runs the same way. We have a solid general understanding of each other’s businesses. If we see the potential for a big referral we’ll lay down some groundwork, and when a good possible referral – I call them “incentivized consumers” – walks straight through our cross-hairs, we recommend our BNI colleagues. But beyond that, we, too, are waiting on actionable intelligence. More than anything else, the Sales Manager Minute is our weekly opportunity to add to the pool of actionable intelligence that our community of referrers uses to generate new business for us.

The Cardinal Sin of 60-Secs

Viewed through that lens, the importance of your sales manager minute is more about function than form, and while the suggested forms and their alternates are helpful to craft a well-polished message, they aren’t necessarily the end-all and be-all of guiding you to increased referrals. If it’s not providing useful information, it’s not an effective use of that opportunity. Because of that, the three worst possible Sales Manager Minutes are:

1. The Exact Same Thing You Said Last Week
The very worst use of a Sales Manager Minute, however well-organized or well-polished, is to repeat a recent Sales Manager Minute wholesale. That’s not to say you can’t have an ongoing theme or cycle back through important points over time, but rehashing the same point over and over has minimal potential to generate referrals, wasting a perfectly good opportunity in the process.  Moreover, it’s the only Sales Manager Minute that can actively hurt your ability to generate referrals.

I call wholesale repetition is the cardinal sin of Sales Manager Minutes because, committed too often, it can easily give the appearance of apathy and laziness. Any time members appear uncommitted to developing their business or to the BNI process, their colleagues will wonder if they are uncommitted to generating referrals for others, or to serving their clients well, and question why they should go out of their way to help someone who is unwilling to help themselves.  The easiest way to give that impression on a weekly basis is with an unprepared or rehashed Sales Manager Minute.

2. Stating the Obvious
If the goal of your Sales Manager Minute is to provide actionable information to fellow members, telling them what they already know and nothing more will always be a wasted opportunity. What is and isn’t obvious depends both on your profession and your familiarity with the members of your chapter, but if you sense that you will be stating the obvious, you always have the opportunity to provide more details, to provide illustrative examples, or even to take a shot in the dark. You can’t move the needle less than zero.

3. Being Too Vague
If your BNI Chapter was joined by a new property-casualty insurer, every member could recommend him to all of the 90% of people in their network who drive…but they don’t. They might refer the friend complaining about her new car bill being sky-high (the aforementioned incentivized consumer), and the old client with a huge fleet, and the colleague they think would hit it off personally with the agent, but that’s it. We don’t refer everyone we know to every member who would like some of their money; we make specific connections

…and the Solution?

Actionable intelligence can be generated in several ways, but the most central point is that your ask, whatever it is and however you construct it, should TARGET, DRIVE, or INFORM the referrals to your business, and for me, in that order of importance.

The best Sales Manager Minute’s, and the conventional wisdom, still comes out on top here. Any time your Sales Manager Minute is targeted to contact with a specific person, the odds go up that a referral will result. If targeting a specific person isn’t a viable option, requesting referrals to a specific type of business, or individuals in a specific profession, or employees of a specific business can sometimes generate even more referrals if you express a clear reason for targeting that class. This is especially true if your focus that week is on networking more than end-customers.

Sales Manager Minutes are also an excellent opportunity to steer referrals in a particular direction to address the immediate needs of your business. If you have just hired someone to expand your service offerings in a particular area, you may want to emphasize finding work for that person. If your store bought a large quantity of something at a discount, and you want to move it as a special, you may want to promote that deal. As an estate planning attorney, if I had to spend several hours doing research to draft a special kind of trust, I may want to highlight that scenario to see if I can capitalize further on that knowledge. This is less likely to generate quality referrals than a targeted ask, but if you don’t have a target-style Sales Manager Minute to offer, or if you still prefer to address an immediate priority, this is the way to go.

Some lines of work, particularly after you’ve already done a number of other Sales Manager Minutes, just do not lend themselves well to a targeted ask. Likewise, you may not have reason to promote one aspect of your work over others. Even so, you can provide actionable intelligence by informing your fellow members of the work that you do, and the role that you play in your clients’ lives. You may want to offer some ‘fun facts’ about your profession that aren’t common knowledge.  If you struggle to come up with a distinctive sales manager minute from time to time, a great solution is to provide a brief “case study” of how you were able to help a client in a specific situation, or explain why an issue that clients frequently think is a simple one really isn’t.  This is particularly true for service professionals, whose “product” is less concrete than a physical product, and therefore harder to understand.

In summary, you should always plan your Sales Manager Minute around the goal of providing your BNI colleagues with new information about your business, or a fresh way to look through their network, that will help them to refer more business to you. By avoiding information your colleagues are well aware of, and instead focusing on information that targets, drives, and informs the search for referrals, you maximize your potential for new referrals every time you speak.


I was recently shown the following video by a colleague. It’s a segment from a year-old episode of PBS’s Nightly Business Report, but it does a solid job of explaining what BNI is. Perhaps most important to me is the point that, while BNI meetings are focused on referrals, the connections you make are more colleague than anything else, people who can offer advice, act as a sounding board, and share business experience. For new entrepreneurs, this can be as valuable as the referrals themselves.