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How to Hack Cold Email Personalization




Earlier in my sales career, I worked as an SDR (someone who cold calls and emails all day long just to set appointments). My competitive nature and longing for personal growth drove me to step outside my own little inbox to figure out what the big players in the company were doing.


There was this one woman, hired not too long after me, who was setting meetings like no tomorrow. Her results made a lot of reps envious. But she believed in collective success and to their astonishment, was happy to share her strategy. It’s one I’ve been using ever since and it never lets me or my clients down.


If you’re someone who reads about best practices in sending cold emails, chances are you’ve come across this piece of advice:


“For a cold email to be effective, it has to be personalized to the recipient. Other less personalized emails won’t work as well because they sound robotic and aren’t as relevant”


This is the traditional warning we get for targeting high-value leads. The moral here is to never even think of sending an unpersonalized template to a big fish you want to reel in with your words.


But here’s the fascinating thing about personalization: it’s completely hackable. You really don’t have to write separate emails for each of your prospects— not so long as you use the right strategy.


Skeptical? Good, you should be. I was too before I tested this practice millions of times throughout hundreds of cold email campaigns over the years.


I’ve recently worked with six early-stage tech startups who were all hyper-skeptical about this approach, but the nice thing about that is none of our opinions matter, especially not mine. This is about data and results. Results where they all averaged 25 qualified meetings per every 200 emails delivered. Some of the prospects who responded work in Director and VP positions at companies like Salesforce, HubSpot, Inside Sales, Oracle, Halo Top, HP, you get the point…


To fully understand how to hack personalization, we need to start with a basic objective of why we use it in the first place. Generally, the consensus is we want our prospects to feel like an email was written specifically for them. That makes them feel valued and shows them we put in the time, so that theoretically, those leads should convert at a much higher rate.


With that settled, now we can outline the hack and how it works: to hack personalization, you need to apply meticulous segmentation.


Here’s what I mean— in any cold email campaign, you always start by defining your audience. You want to know to the most specific degree possible who you’re reaching to write an email that most of your readers will relate to. Notice how I say “most”, there is no 100% in cold email, just data-driven decisions that drive high-yield results.


Your audience is defined by a cluster of variables that make up different segments. Variables like: industry, company size, company stage, location, seniority, role, age of current role, and so on.


Most companies sell to an audience made up of several segments. A company who doesn’t do that would be selling a super niche product, only valuable to a small sliver of society.


Once you’ve segmented your audience into detailed buckets, you’re ready to craft a template for each one.


This is where it gets a little tricky. To really nail personalization based on segmentation, it’s imperative that you fully understand each segment you’re writing to. You need to live in their worlds and master their day-to-day just as well as they do.


Not an expert in other peoples’ jobs? That’s ok, there’s a hack for that too. Just immerse yourself in their content. Read what they post, watch what they stream, listen to their podcasts— anything that will help you identify what’s relevant to their roles.


Once you have that, you’re ready to write. Start with one of your audience segments and craft an email that makes assumptions, guided by what you’ve learned about them.

Here’s an example:



{First Name},


You’re recognized as a creative self-starter with an eye for design and an ear for a captivating story. I’d assume you usually take the lead on devising your team’s whole campaign strategy.



The email this is taken from received hundreds of replies to the tune of:


“How did you know all those things about me?”

“You’re spot on, it’s great to meet you!”

“Fabulous email, thanks for getting to know me before reaching out.”


Were there naysayer replies as well? For sure. Naysayers gonna naysay, nothing we can do about that. What matters most is that they only made up about 5 responses in total over each campaign duration, so the data was pretty conclusive.


But before you hit copy/paste and pop this intro right into your templates, I’d caution you to first take a step back. This intro is written for a segment made up of marketing directors at startup companies in “tech hub” cities, in companies experiencing rapid growth, etc, etc.


Based on what I understand about the segment, I can logically make an educated set of assumptions about what kinds of people are drawn to this role.


For instance, I can assume that a startup attracts a self-starter personality and that taking the lead on a task is less cemented into their role due to the high-growth atmosphere. I know this is someone who wears multiple hats and probably doesn’t ask for one bit of recognition. But I need to get highly detailed in my segmentation before I can assume any of those things. That’s my only word of caution on trying this strategy.


There are plenty of other formats you can use to apply this same concept; no need to just customize this one sample approach.


Get experimental with it. See what works and what doesn’t. It’s ok to sometimes miss the mark! Anyone who gets upset over an obvious attempt to send a targeted, non-spammy message isn’t worth talking to anyway.


Get on out there and reel in all those big fish without spending hours per day on each and every email.


Once you've found your sweet spot in each audience segment, you'll be left with evergreen templates that prospect like soldiers and can last you for years to come.


Learn to Write Copy that Converts

©2020 Farren Neu

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