Developing an army of loyal brand advocates should be at the top of every B2B marketer’s priority list this year. According to Forrester, “fostering advocates is essential to becoming customer-obsessed.”

But before you can start engaging and nurturing your potential advocates, you need to know where to find them.

Some of our top speakers from Advocamp 2015the first-ever event dedicated to customer advocacyknow where to look.

Here’s a few unconventional places to find potential advocates, plus tips for turning them into vocal champions for your product or service.

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1. Your critics

enahcne_customer_expereince_HP_chris_peltzCustomers who constantly sing your praises are nice, but in order to truly grow as a company you have to know your weaknesses. And who better to discuss your weak points than customers who aren’t afraid to point them out?

According to Chris Peltz, Customer Success Operations Manager at HP Software, “Customers that were more critical of us were stronger advocates for us then we had ever thought. They were critical because they supported what we believed in.”

Listen to your critics, even if you disagree with their feedback. It demonstrates that you value them, which is the first big step towards converting them from critic to advocate. If you act on their feedback, tell them! They’ll be impressed that you listened and could turn into some of your strongest champions.

2. Education programs

JeanetteGibsonIf customers struggle to use your product, or are unfamiliar with all of its capabilities, it will be tough for them to share positive sentiments about it with others. After all, how can you vouch for something when you don’t know the value it delivers?

Hootsuite recognized this challenge early on. Jeanette Gibson, Hootsuite’s former Vice President of Customer Experience and Community, shared how their education program, Hootsuite University, was making their customers more successfuland therefore more likely to become loyal users of their platform. “In our research, offering education is a way to help your audience grow…It’s helping us drive engagement. In fact, we saw a 40% increase in engagement by offering this type of education program.”

If you don’t already have your own product education program, consider creating one. If you help your customers become power users it will be easy for them to sing your praises.

3. Marketplace communities

michael_overell_advocamp_recruitloopOn-demand marketplaces like Uber and Airbnb, which rely on users who aren’t paid employees to operate and grow, aren’t just changing their respective industries; they’re also changing how advocates are generated.

Michael Overell, CEO of RecruitLoop, provides some insight: “Beyond the individual incentives for each of these providers to be successful, the best marketplaces are actually building sustainable communities. They’re connecting members with each other, not just with the platform.”

Consider creating a program that allows your advocates to form their own community. Support your customers in starting interesting discussions and meet-ups. Then, find ways to recognize top contributors to incentivize them to participate. Your most active members will likely become some of your best advocates.

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4. Your employees

lizpedroEmployees could be the most important champions to recruit. Engaging employee advocates can result in better customer service and an improved online presence.

Liz Pedro, Director Customer Content & Advocacy for Mitel, felt employees needed to be a key part of the company’s rebranding. Liz invited employees into the Mitel Champions advocate marketing program where they could complete educational tasks and challenges built around the rebrand for perks and prizes. As a result, the company recruited 1,719 advocates, received 151 referrals and generated 102,000 social media interactions around the rebrand.

Give your employees more opportunities to be involved with your brand. Solicit their feedback and invite them to share information about the company on social media. Above all, keep it fun and engaging so your employees don’t see it as “work.”

5. Customer Success managers

Nick_Mehta_linkedinMost companies have customer success teams of one sort or another: account managers, sales reps, retention, support, etc. These teams work with the customer on a regular basis and really know who your ground-level users are. These admins can be just as important—if not more important—than executive sponsors. “The executives bought the product, but the users use them,” says Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight.

Your admin’s stories, quotes and testimonials tend to be more detailed and in-depth than an executive’s because they work with your product on a daily basis. That makes them more relevant to other potential customers, and therefore more compelling.

Open lines of communication between your customer success/sales and marketing teams to find these users and bring them into an advocate marketing program. If possible, start an incentive program that rewards CSMs or reps who recruit new advocates from your user base.

(If you want to learn more about how to engage executives, download this free ebook.)

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