With Email Campaigns, How Much Personalization Is Too Much (or Too Little)?

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Email personalization is a frequently discussed topic in today’s marketing landscape, and with good reason. There is no question personalizing communications to buyers has become critical. Today’s buyers demand more than a “spray-and-pray” email blast. 

Great sources of data for personalization are social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, places where people are actively publishing information about themselves for public consumption. These are things they’re passionate or excited about, whether it’s a #humblebrag, thoughts on who should win an Oscar, or rooting for their team in the Super Bowl. Any of these posts make for great icebreakers.

A recent McKinsey study found that personalization can lift sales by 10 percent or more. The sales community widely accepts this, but it still has questions surrounding the practical application of personalization. How do sales teams utilize personalization efficiently?

What Counts as Personalization?

In 2003, it was impressive to receive a sales email that included your name. Today, in 2018, that is no longer enough to constitute a personalized email. Sellers need to do more to make buyers feel they’re receiving a message that is just for them.

Some examples of personalization that salespeople leverage in emails include these:

  • Unique to the individual (attended the same college, worked at the same company, know people in common)
  • Aligned to the buyers’ unique challenges (positioned by specific knowledge of the buyer’s pain points)
  • Account or company-based (positioned by the specific company that the buyer represents)
  • Persona-based (positioned by the role of the buyer)
  • Sales stage-based (positioned by where the buyer is in the sales cycle)

Effort vs. Reward

Personalizing every email sent may seem overwhelming. We only have 24 hours in a day! SalesLoft’s data scientists analyzed a data set of more than 6 million sales emails to find the sweet spot where email personalization and performance intersect (email performance was limited to directly attributable metrics—email opens and email replies; the vast majority were cold outbound sales emails).

In a recent study, we learned that there is an opportunity for salespeople to drive competitive differentiation by crafting a moderately personalized message. The analysis showed that by personalizing just 20 percent of email content, open rates increased more than 40 percent on average. Reply rates increased a whopping 112 percent (for the purposes of our research, we consider an email to be “personalized” when it is significantly different from the original template).

It is easy to assume that the more effort and time one invests in quality sales activities, the higher the percentage of successful interactions achieved. However, there is a point of diminishing returns. If sales reps are spending inordinate amounts of time personalizing every email, the effort required exceeds the reward. There is a sweet spot where effort and reward are in harmony.

We found that performance of emails that were highly personalized (little to no similarity to the original email template) dropped off significantly. One explanation is that the message may deviate so significantly from the original template that the fundamental talking points are lost and the value of their offering isn’t communicated.

Deeper analysis by SalesLoft’s data scientists uncovered that the maximum return on time spent personalizing replies hovers between 3.5 to 5 minutes. While there is no question taking time to personalize email communications is important, it’s clear that this should be limited to less than 5 minutes per email. Time spent beyond that is wasted effort, as illustrated in the graph below.

In other words, a little personalization goes a long way.

All of our research to date demonstrates that B2B sales email personalization consistently delivers positive outcomes. However, practitioners need to strike a balance between how much personalization to insert and the time they spend doing it.

Going the extra mile with just 20 percent personalization can be the first step in building the right relationship for mutual success.

Sydney Sloan is chief marketing officer for SalesLoft. Sloan is an accomplished B2B global marketing leader who has helped align strategy and execution to drive growth and scale at both public and pre-IPO companies. As SalesLoft’s CMO, she applies her expertise to support the company’s aggressive growth trajectory to ensure continued customer success on the company’s innovative sales engagement platform.

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