As more and more organizations realize the power of connecting their customers to each other, communities (more specifically customer advocacy programs) are emerging within the business-to-business (B2B) space. But unlike its cousin, the business-to-consumer (B2C) model that’s excelled with customer advocacy for many years, leadership in the B2B world is in catch-up mode as they realize the success a well-executed program can bring their organizations.

Today, there are more than 15,000 jobs posted on LinkedIn with “Customer Advocacy” in the title. While this number continues to climb rapidly each year, experienced customer advocacy professionals are hard to find. If you’re a recruiter attempting to fill one of these positions, you’re familiar with this reality. Within the B2B world, customer advocacy programs simply haven’t existed long enough, in a big enough volume, to serve up a plethora of customer advocacy administrators. And while this could leave hiring managers frustrated, they shouldn’t worry.

When looking to add customer advocacy to your organization, there are five key traits to look for in a program manager. And yes, plenty of folks without customer advocacy in their title can fill the role. Find these qualities in your candidate, and you’ll set your program (and organization) up for success.

  1. Empathy - I can’t stress this one enough. I, personally, won’t hire someone who isn’t empathetic. It’s my number one non-negotiable. As I mentioned this in conversations with CEOs, CMOs, and recruiters looking to hire their first Community Managers in 2021, they all followed up with the common question…How can you tell if someone is empathetic? It’s easier than you think. Some people give it away in their cover letter (I LOVE a good cover letter, but that’s another topic.) when they mention volunteer work, their desire to help others and a need to do work that makes someone else’s life better. But if it’s not in the cover letter, it’s often visible in the resume. To me, what people include in their “volunteerism” or “other interests” sections is just as valuable as the roles they’ve previously held. Pay attention to this, and you’ll learn a lot about what that individual values.
  2. Passion - While I think every manager wants their team members to enjoy their work, it isn’t always necessary to see their passion. This, however, isn’t true in the Community space. Specifically, when thinking of advocacy, the Community Manager is responsible for helping members engage more with each other and their organization. I’m not convinced anyone who isn’t passionate about this work can do this successfully. People are drawn to people who are excited. So if a candidate isn’t showing passion (an easy thing to identify!) during the interview, they may not be right for the role. Just think, “Would this person inspire me to participate in the community?” Your answer should guide your decision.
  3. Creativity - Before we dive into this one, let’s all realize a reality. People have options. They could easily spend their free time watching YouTube videos of cute animals (or online shopping) just as easily as they could decide to spend time in your community. And…anyone in your community likely has other community options. So in short, the Community Manager you hire better have some creativity up their sleeve, because without it, they’ll fall flat. Remember, a community needs to draw people in day after day. And no, serving up new product information alone won’t cut it. So hire someone who can create the surprises — the unexpected moments that matter — and you’ll see engagement in the program soar.
  4. Humility - Before you say it, yes…this one is harder to uncover from the start. But it is possible. Again, go back to the cover letter. Do they talk a lot about how great they are? That could be a sign that they’re lacking humility. In the interview, ask them about who helped them get to where they are? The best resource I’ve seen that guides how to hire someone with humility is Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Ideal Team Player.” If you manage people, or work with other humans, you should read that book. Since Lencioni explains this piece so well, I’ll keep it brief. Don’t hire someone who isn’t humble — especially to manage your community.
  5. Optimism - Remember that the role of a Community Manager is to support people. And people aren’t just the title they tout. They’re parents, spouses, volunteers, hobbyists, etc. Just like you, they deal with and work through the complexities of life every darn day. And if you haven’t noticed lately — life is hard. Community Managers must realize this and be equipped to flex based on the needs of their community members. And if you’re not an optimistic individual, this will be an uphill climb. Finding someone who can't only see the bright side of the equation, but who can also help others see it, is one of the best things you’ll do for your community. Trust me.

Bonus Trait - Curiosity - Community Managers work with people (customers/partners/prospects) every day. Their job is to build a space that allows those individuals to feel heard, valued, and supported. Just like all Community Managers, those who lead customer advocacy programs need to be genuinely curious. This trait will guide them to naturally uncover the ever-changing wants and needs of those they serve.

So there you have it, folks. If you want your community to succeed, you need to hire someone with dynamite soft skills — a caring, passionate, curious, creative, and humble individual. And while a lot of people with “customer advocacy” in their title may not exist, there are loads of folks with those qualities wanting to work for you. Have a blast and a half finding them. I know I do.

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