The Complete Guide To Email Personalization For Sales

February 3, 2016 Geoffrey Walters

Genuine email personalization is hugely desirable in business. A joint survey of more than 1,100 digital and e-commerce professionals by Econsultancy and Monetate in 2013 found that 94% of businesses saw personalization as ‘critical to current and future success.’

However, a 2014 survey conducted by Econsultancy and Adobe found that only 5% of companies were using personalization ‘extensively.’ The discrepancy poses the question: If personalization is so important, why are so few businesses implementing it?

The main reason is because genuine personalization is hard to achieve. Salespeople have always looked for that one-to-one connection and in the digital age, as Lisa Arthur of Teradata points out, ‘mass personalization got us close to that ideal.’

As a customer in the early days of mass personalization, there was a little frisson of delight at reading your name in an email from a company, even though the rest of the message would normally be a standard mailshot.

But this kind of approach, which seemed so groundbreaking just a few years ago, is now old hat. ‘Years ago, mass personalization was innovative and fresh,’ writes Arthur. ‘But these days, it’s standard fare, table stakes.’ The message is this: salespeople can do much, much better. And we’re going to need to.

Daniel Newman of Forbes agrees: ‘Cookie cutters don’t work anymore,’ he says. We can no longer force template emails onto customers and expect them to be interested in what we’re selling. Simply dropping their names into a standard email is a dead loss.

The statistics support the impact of genuine email personalization. The Econsultancy/Adobe survey found an average 20% increase in sales when using personalized web experiences. A study by Accenture discovered that in B2C, 73% of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their shopping experiences more relevant.

So businesses see the benefits of personalization just as customers respond well to it. All we have to do now is find the right way of going about personalization, a way that focuses on prospects’ interests and problems and offers tailor-made solutions. Let’s look at some ways of achieving that now.

Find Your Niche

find your niche

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When thinking about how to pique a prospect’s interest with a personalized email, we need to consider what makes us warm to people in a social setting. Often, we are drawn to certain people because of a shared niche interest. For example, if there is only one other person at your accountant’s annual garden party who shares your love of fly fishing, you’re likely to end up chatting with that person over salmon puffs and champagne.

In his book Give And Take: A Revolutionary Approach To Success, Professor Adam Grant puts it this way:

‘We bond when we share uncommon commonalities, which allow us to feel that we fit in and stand out at the same time. Think of the last time you traveled abroad and met someone from your hometown. If you met at home, the connection wouldn’t stand out as unique, but on foreign soil, you’re the only two people from there, so you feel a sense of closeness.’

Research your prospect’s social media. Scour personal details and recent posts. Mine LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook and anything else you can think of for information on shared sports teams, hobbies, backgrounds—anything that might make your prospect feel an emotional connection that will set you apart from other reps, other brands.

Here’s a great example from Saleshacker that shows how a well-researched hook (in this case, a prospect’s favorite soccer team) can drive a sales email to greater success.

Start With The Subject Line

Before you even think about writing the email itself, take the subject line into consideration. It’s the first thing the prospect will see when the email lands in their inbox and if it’s dull as dishwater, it’s not going to matter how well-researched and endearingly written your email is: they’re just not going to open it.

A 2011 study by Eloqua of 202 million emails sent in January of that year found that a subject line containing the prospect’s name had open rates of 4.7% above the average. Further custom personalisation in the subject line saw that rate rise to 9.9%.

Consider putting your main “uncommon commonality” into the subject line, just as was done in the Saleshacker example given in the previous section (‘Why a Man Utd fan is the best fit for sales enablement?’).

Use Your Connections


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No matter how well-researched your email is, sometimes prospects just don’t like receiving email from people to whom they have no connection. Or it could be that the prospect has little or no social media presence and that you have been unable to find that common interest and therefore unable to create a hook in your email.

This is where mutual connections come in. There are two ways of using your connections to personalise an email. The first is to namedrop the prospect’s own colleagues or superiors; it’s especially convincing if you casually use first names. This not only shows them that you are familiar with their company, but that you are confident enough to let them cross-reference your ability with colleagues who have previously dealt with you.

Tools like Datanyze and Conspire can analyse your contact list and identify acquaintances that form the missing link between you and the client. Once you’ve identified the right link person, you can either drop their name in the email—or, even better, get them to send the initial email introducing you to the prospect.

Timing Is Everything


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You’ve done your research and composed a perfectly balanced, witty-but-not-too-witty, professional email. The subject line is pure clickbait. It can’t fail. Or can it?

If you send your email at the wrong time, the likelihood of failure will certainly increase—and it’s not just a matter of finding out when the prospect is most likely to open your email. It’s about finding out when they’re going to open it and be receptive to its contents. If the prospect likes to do a cursory email audit at the end of a 12-hour shift on a Friday, the chances of your email going straight into the bin are higher than if they are, say, sitting down with their morning coffee to see what has come in first thing.

Research conducted by GetResponse in 2012 suggests that Thursday is the best day to send an email. Thursdays have the highest open rate and the highest click-through rate. In addition, most recipients will read a message within the first 60 minutes, while after 24 hours there is next to no chance your email will be read.

However, there are a huge number of variables. Different industry, generation, level of seniority, or even geographic location can all blow big holes in your perfect delivery schedule - and thus your open rate and revenue. It’s important to find out, through A/B testing and trial and error, exactly when the best time is for each individual client. Look for shared characteristics to try to dial in future predictions.

Many prospects won’t work a ‘traditional’ nine-to-five, Monday-Friday week. Some may enjoy reading through all their correspondence on a Monday morning so that they have a clear week ahead. Some may be gluttons for punishment and read their work emails at the weekend.

For extra help, email plugins like Yesware and Streak can be used to monitor email activity. You can track email open rates and reply rates and find out how many people have clicked on a link or opened an attachment. A combination of this information and your own extensive A/B testing should give you a good picture of when the client is most likely to read what you’ve written.

Praise Them Like You Should

praise concert music

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As well as finding out about a prospect’s personal interests, it pays to look at what recent events the company has been discussing or promoting on social media. If it’s a car company who have recently put on an event showcasing green-energy use in the automotive industry, inform yourself about it and offer the prospect praise, commentary and advice.

Similarly, look at the prospect’s recent achievements and use them as a basis for praise. Start off by looking at their LinkedIn page, pick out certain achievements and congratulate the prospect on them. As a 2010 study by Elain Chan and Jaideep Sengupta of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology showed, even patently transparent flattery can actually help win over a prospect.

Say My Name

Copyblogger notes that ‘you’ is one of the most persuasive words in the English language. The site goes on to reference a U.S. medical study on the effects of hearing one’s own name and concludes that ‘while people might like the word “you,” it is guaranteed that they love reading their own name much more.’

Try using the prospect’s name at least twice—once in the subject line and then again in the line of address. We’ve already seen that personalised subject lines make the prospect more likely to read, and the use of their name is likely to make them more engaged and trusting—the aforementioned U.S. study revealed that our names are linked to our self-perception and form a huge part of our identity.

Don’t Cross The Line Into Creepy

The problem with doing something like repeating someone’s name in an email is that, if we overdo it, it can come across as rather creepy indeed.

The first thing to do is to make sure you know your audience. If your prospects are tech-savvy early adopters, they are more likely to be comfortable with extensive personalisation than a more technologically conservative group of people. An older demographic with a lifetime of formally addressed letters behind it may also be disturbed by the use of their first name by someone they haven’t yet formed a relationship with. This should all come out in the research you need to do before you email the prospect in the first place.

Secondly, don’t sound like you intimately know the prospect. You are being friendly and interested, not chatting them up at a bar. Emily King of Radix Communications likens a bad personalized email to being given a ‘cold reading’ by a psychic: it can feel irksome and uncomfortable. That means avoiding smarmy lines like this:

‘I tried dropping you a line earlier today but like all awesome marketing professionals I imagine you were busy driving your business forward.’

Not only is the rep making assertions about the prospect that they can’t possibly know to be true (how does the rep know that the prospect is an ‘awesome marketing professional’?), they are writing in a very unnatural manner, which can also serve to unnerve a potential client.

According to King, the trick is to maintain a casual yet formal tone of voice:

‘[C]opy in an email shouldn’t read like it’s from somebody who thinks they personally know you. I’ve referred to this before as the “assumed bro” and, rather than being creepy, it just makes the recipient cringe, because it reeks more of desperation than of professionalism.’

Equally, be wary of referencing personal events that the prospect has documented publicly on their Facebook page. A sentence bonding over a shared love of a baseball team is fine; a sentence complimenting their little sister’s dress at her recent First Communion is less likely to be so well received.

Katrina Lerman, senior researcher at Communispace, defines the line thus:

‘Welcome to the “uncanny valley.” The term comes from robotics professor Masahiro Mori, who described how people react positively to increasingly humanlike representations, until the point at which they get too close to a real human being, when they suddenly become repulsive. It’s this phenomenon that makes zombies and clowns give us the heebie-jeebies.’

It’s a fine line, but email copy has to display both a friendly tone and a recognition that you’re not actually friends - not yet, anyway. Stay out of the valley!

We’ve seen that email personalization, when applied properly, has proven benefits for your business. A well-researched, tastefully composed message can be the deciding factor in convincing a prospect to do business. So be interested, be friendly, but don’t go overboard; as the American-English poet Anne Bradstreet said:

‘Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach.’

If you want to write better cold emails check out the PersistIQ Cold Email Generator.

And download the Datanyze Sales Development Playbook for information on how to build a successful SDR strategy.

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About the Author

Geoffrey Walters

A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.

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