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Jayson DeLancey
Jayson DeLancey

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Host Mystery Customer Theater for Product Insight

Have you ever been on a sales call with a vendor where they invited a dozen people from the company to attend? That would be rather overwhelming, so most teams will include just a few folks -- likely a sales or business representative and a technical resource like a solutions architect or developer advocate.

To build better software, better onboarding materials, better content, better messaging, etc. we need feedback and insights from developers and customers. If there are only one or two people in the room, how do you scale access to the critical insights?

Recording Calls

You may have heard a voice chime in if you've been in a video conference call that was being recorded:

This call may be recorded for note-taking and coaching purposes.

Most commercial video conferencing products support a recording feature. This includes Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, etc. You might also leverage a conversational intelligence tool that joins your meetings to keep a record such as Gong, MeetRecord, Chorus, etc.

These tools can be really great aids to sales teams, but there are more folks who can take advantage.

Note: It is also important to make sure there is acknowledgment that the session is being recorded and under which jurisdictions participants may reside to abide by any legal considerations.

Mystery Customer Theater

Many teams try to incorporate learning & development activities as part of their culture. This might be getting together as a lunch & learn to watch TED Talks or inviting a guest speaker or a precocious member of the teams to discuss what they are working on.

For teams that focus on Go-to-Market (GTM) activities such as sales, marketing, devrel, etc. consider something similar to an activity I incorporated and affectionately referred to as Mystery Customer Theater.

The idea is that some customer calls or prospective leads have really compelling insights that folks in multiple functions of the larger organizations should learn from. While teams may take notes to summarize key takeaways already those notes might get buried in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Often hearing the tone of voice, the body language, and the surrounding context of what problem somebody is trying to solve or why a solution may or may not be a good fit can be eye opening in a way that a summarized note does not convey.

Observe, Don't Judge

For sessions like this, it is a good idea to begin by setting some ground rules.

  • Scheduling: We get together around 12:30pm on an otherwise quiet Friday. This is intentional to allow folks to eat lunch during the session, but also still have time to go and make and/or pick-up lunch. We also typically keep cameras and microphones off while observing.

  • Respect: We are not getting together to judge those who participated in a call. We are doing the opposite of Mystery Science Theater. Feedback on performance is between a manager and direct-report, so it is important to remind everybody to be kind and the purpose of observing.

  • Privacy: Each organization on the call may be under some form of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Before watching a call, we need to agree not to share anything that folks should not have access to.

While the majority of the time is spent observing the calls themselves, there are moments worth pausing. Folks come off of mute to ask questions, seek clarification, or draw attention to a major "Aha" moment and share new insights.


The results have been really great from these activities. There are far more calls than we could ever listen to, but by picking three calls every other week (watching at 1.5x speed) we are able to get a sampling of what folks are saying.

  • Technical Explanations: Technical resources such as solution architects, developer advocates, sales engineers, etc. are very knowledgeable and will share important details about how APIs and SDKs behave under certain circumstances. If a lead or customer is asking a question, there is a good chance that information is not clear or readily available. It might be good content for a blog post or educational workshop.

  • Product Explanations: Product managers who know their product inside and out may not always have time to explain those details to individuals in other parts of the organization. As customers hear about features that may be relevant to them, their reaction becomes very helpful for messaging and events where other staff need to explain how products and tools add value.

  • Use Cases: Engineers, tech leads, and user experience designers often need customer insights. It is one thing to know that you need to build a feature, but the missing piece between building a product that meets the requirements and one that solves a customer problem is an understanding of how it will be used. By connecting teams that build with the end-user, the work becomes more meaningful and tangible for why we should build a feature in a particular way or the pain that comes from that outstanding bug.

Those all count as business objectives but there is also some team camaraderie that comes from the activity. While watching conference presentations, inspiring leaders, etc. has a self-actualization benefit, Mystery Customer Theater is a professional development activity that is highly relevant and pragmatic to improve our day-to-day work.

Building Personas

No matter what your role is, gaining deeper customer insights through observation is key in understanding the end-user. By cherry-picking different customer calls and user types we can form a much richer understanding of what the persona of our user or buyer is. This helps everybody on the team, no matter their function deliver a more focused and impactful result. Our language can shift from talking about a fictional "Front-end Fred" to "remember how excited Fred from ${company} got when he heard we were beginning work on a React-Native SDK"?

Do you do something similar to learn what to build and how it should work? Share with a comment if you have a process that works for your team(s).

Top comments (1)

bradenriggs profile image
Braden Riggs

Great read!