Not necessarily! When was the last time you had a referral from your mom? From your dad? From your spouse? Oddly enough, it’s often the people most familiar with you who are most casual about giving you referrals. Look at it this way: You’ve gone out of your way to cultivate your business referral relationships, and you’ve done so in a largely professional setting, with others who are also interested in getting business referrals. But with your family and friends, the relationships grow out of non-business, more personal associations; therefore, it may not even occur to a family member to refer business to you—unless you make a point of asking for it.

If you’re not in the habit of talking about whom you’re going to refer each other to or when and how you’re going to refer each other, you’ll just continue with that same relationship of liking and trusting each other. It’s called inertia.

Familiarity also has its dangers. For example, as much as your mom loves you, she’s seen you at your worst—runny-nosed, squalling, tattling, lying, throwing tantrums. Perhaps she secretly harbors the fear that if she referred her best friend to you for business, you’d end up embarrassing her. They know you, they trust you, but they may be hesitant to mix business with personal. Even more likely, they may not understand how to refer you.

In 1987, at the invitation of a local resident named Bill, I went to a rural part of Wyoming to help kick off a new BNI group for about twenty-five or thirty interested people. He introduced me to the group, and I spent the next hour telling them how networking, and specifically BNI, worked. Now, by this time I had done about fifty kickoffs in three states, and I had learned to read my audience and recognize when the light went on and they got the concept. Here in “No-Man’s Land”, Wyoming, on this kickoff morning, I talked and I talked but the light did not go on. They just looked at me with blank stares.

So I finished my talk and asked if they had any questions. One guy—I’ll call him Frank—ignored me but looked over at Bill and drawled, “Bay-ull? What the hay-ull we gotta come here every week for these meetings? Look, man, we got a referral for each other—pick up the phone and call each other. We don’t have to come to these dang meetings.”

And I thought: Oh, man, I flew five hours to Wyoming to explain how this works, and this guy says why meet, let’s just give each other referrals.

But Bill looked over at the guy and said, “Frank, how long have we known each other?”

Frank said, “Oh, about fifteen years.”

“In fifteen years,” said Bill, “how many referrals have you given me, Frank?”

“Uh . . . well, I don’t think I’ve given you any.”

“And in fifteen years, how many referrals have I given you?”

“Well, shoot, you ain’t given me any either, Bill.”

And Bill said, “Frank, that’s why we gotta get here every week and go through this, because otherwise, you know, we’re all a bunch of friends but we’re not helping each other in business.”

And just like that, the light went on for not only Frank, but the whole group—you could see the spark. Everybody there knew everybody else in the room, they were all friends, and yet none of them had thought to help each other by passing business referrals. Suddenly they understood that it would take a system, a referral-networking group designed to generate referrals, meeting regularly, to get them to do what they could have been doing all along.

Inexperienced networkers often don’t think of seeking referrals except through their customers, which severely limits the number and quality of referrals they will get. Business people who join referral-networking groups expand their horizons, but they still wrongly assume that additional referrals will come only from other group members.

The fact is, anybody can be trained to refer business to you, including friends and family. One of the first things you can do is get them to listen for key words—like “backache,” if you’re a chiropractor—and to recognize circumstances where they can, through you, provide a solution to someone’s problem.

A lot of research has been done on the reticular activating system. Remember how as soon as you drove your new red Honda Accord off the lot, you started seeing people driving red Honda Accords everywhere you looked—gigantic fleets of red Honda Accords you had never noticed before? That’s your reticular activating system at work. You see the things that are relevant to you; you don’t see what’s not relevant.

Training your referral sources’ reticular activating systems to hear the things that are relevant to referrals is key. Even more important is alerting your own reticular activating system to recognize when you have the opportunity to refer one of your referral partners. When you do this, you are cultivating a true referral mind-set in yourself—an awareness that referrals can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime—and you’re learning to speak the language of referrals, when appropriate or opportune, in all your relationships. If you are an unselfish and helpful partner in your outside relationships, others will be happy to reciprocate with business referrals.