Do you think that only consumer brands such as Apple, Harley Davidson, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s have customers passionate enough to recommend their products or services without being paid or otherwise incentivized? Every company has brand advocates, even those that sell to other businesses.

Does it surprise you to learn that almost any company that’s been in business for a while has brand advocates? It’s true. That’s why most B2B marketers and successful sales reps will tell you that “word of mouth” referrals are such an important source of new business. And guess who’s generating those referrals? Brand advocates, of course!

Identifying Brand Advocates

How do you go about identifying your company’s brand advocates? Should you listen for favorable comments on social media, ask your sales reps to tell you which customers are happy with your services or just collect the positive comments that occasionally trickle in? Yes, to all of the above.

With that being said, in my experience the fastest and easiest way to identify lots of brand advocates is to send your customers a one-question email survey, with the question:

“How likely are you to recommend our products or services to your friends and colleagues?”

This question is based on the Net Promoter Ultimate Question and is scored on a scale from zero to 10. Customers that give you a nine or a 10 are your brand advocates.

Before emailing the survey, just make sure to figure out how you’re going to flag these newly identified brand advocates within your or other CRM database. This will come in handy when you want to do future marketing campaigns leveraging these brand advocates.

You may also want to give a heads-up to your customer success team that you’re doing the survey since chances are you’ll also dislodge some unhappy customers (it happens to the best of us). These are the folks that give you a zero through six on the survey (with sevens and eights deemed as passive or neutral).

How long after you email the one-question survey should you expect to start identifying brand advocates? Within 24 to 48 hours. Pretty fast, right?

Mobilizing Brand Advocates

Now how do you mobilize your brand advocates once you've identified them? First of all decide what exactly it is that you’d like them to do. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a testimonial
  • Promote an upcoming company event
  • Share your latest content marketing
  • Provide product feedback
  • Contribute a blog post
  • Respond to a negative social media
  • Buy more

Once you've decided on the action you’d like your brand advocates to take, there are three different paths to mobilize them -- you should do them all.

1. Make mobilization part of the brand advocate identification process

Why not include a call-to-action on the thank you page of your Ultimate Question email survey? Set up your survey so that those customers that answer with a nine or 10 (brand advocates) then go to a special “thank you for taking the survey” page that prompts them to take an action you care about. 

For example, maybe it's to share a link for your latest piece of content marketing, or a request to write a testimonial or sign up to become a guest blogger.

By integrating a call to action into your survey thank you page, you can go from not knowing your brand advocates to mobilizing them within hours.

2. Make brand advocates part of your current marketing campaigns

What’s the next marketing campaign you’re planning to do, and how can your brand advocates help? Let’s say you have an upcoming webinar showcasing features of your new product release. Here are a few ways your brand advocates can pitch in to make it a success:

  • They can help promote the webinar to their own social networks
  • They can be invited to participate on the webinar and share how they use the new product features
  • They can be encouraged to tweet out during the webinar the key points and relevant hashtags

The main point here is that you should start considering your brand advocate an important component for each of your upcoming marketing campaigns. So when developing new campaigns, decide in advance how you’d like your advocates to help, and then message them accordingly.

3. Develop specific marketing campaigns for your brand advocates

Did someone write a negative review about your company or maybe you’ve had some bad press crop up? Have a new mobile app in the works and want to generate early positive reviews? Launching a new LinkedIn Group or company blog and want some participation out of the gate?

This is where knowing your brand advocates in advance can really make a huge difference. Develop targeted marketing campaigns where your brand advocates are uniquely positioned to “join the conversation” and help get others involved.

Some Final Things to Keep in Mind

These are your brand advocates. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them (within limits, of course) when you need their help. Having said that, keep in mind the following:

  • Not all brand advocates are the same. Some will be happy to write a review and get involved, while others would rather just share branded content from time to time, and still others may not be active participants online but will be your biggest boosters offline.
  • Sure they love you, but sometimes it’s tough love. Don’t be surprised when they give you tough feedback, too, especially when you make the occasional missteps along the way. But don’t worry -- they’re still rooting for you!
  • Treat them special. Acknowledge them and thank them. They are your brand advocates after all. Or said another way … don’t interact with them like they’re just another customer. Show them a bit of extra love and make them feel appreciated.
  • Make it easy for them to help. Don’t just email them that you need help. Provide context, links, shareable content, suggested copy and actions -- whatever you think will make it as easy as possible for them to come to your aid.
  • Be clear about transparency requirements. Read up on the recommended best practices for Advocacy programs from, and make sure you advise advocates of any disclosures required in your industry.

Now it’s your turn. Do you know who your brand advocates are? And if so, what would you like them to do on your brand’s behalf?

Editor's Note: To read more of Carter's B2B marketing advice, see Struggling with B2B Social Marketing? Here's What to Do Now