Written by Jack Reamer, B2B Lead Generation Expert

I send cold emails for a living. And if I don’t get replies, I don’t eat.

So I’m always testing new strategies to see what will make a prospect hit that “REPLY” button. And right now, cold email personalization is working like gangbusters.

But you already knew that, right? After all, isn’t that why you use lemlist? 😍

Sure, lemlist makes it easy to personalize. And that’s great...

But exactly how much personalization should you use? What should you customize for each prospect? And what does a winning “personalization process” look like?

For the next 6 minutes, I’ll give you a crash course on how I do cold email personalization, backed by sales data.

And yes, by the end of this post, you should be able to 2x your reply rates this week. Especially if you haven’t been “doing personalization” correctly.

Question #1 - How much of your email should be personalized?

Sales email replies proportion to personalization

According to this study by Salesloft, personalizing 20% of your email will 2X your reply rate.

In other words, personalization can single-handedly double your reply rate, but it has diminishing returns. An outbound sales study by Hubspot had similar findings.

“After you’ve altered 50% or more of your template, the impact on reply rate is negligible. That’s important to note, since changing roughly half of a template is a big time and energy investment."

That tells me I don’t need to customize the entire message to benefit from all the reply getting goodness of personalization.

Data tells us the “personalization sweet spot” is somewhere between 20% and 50% of the cold email.

The takeaway: For a 5-sentence email, personalize with one completely unique sentence (e.g. custom intro) and a merge tag.

I was working together with Vuk, lemlist's Head of Growth, on this article. Here's how they use this strategy. They call it "The Ice Breaker".

ice breaker lemlist strategy

Wanna emulate this strategy on your biz? Follow the recipe...

  1. Create a column in your .csv file called "Ice Breaker"
  2. Study your audience (e.g. LinkedIn profiles of prospects)
  3. Write a personalized sentence for each prospect in the Ice Breaker column
  4. Add {{Ice Breaker}} tag as an intro line in your cold email in lemlist
  5. Click send, grab beer and enjoy seeing the reply rate ramp up

Context and meaningful personalization.

Question #2 - What should you customize for each prospect?

When it comes to personalizing cold emails, it’s easy to overcomplicate things. That must be why 60% of marketers admit that they struggle to personalize content. (According to Adobe.)

So let’s make it easy.

Here are 2 places I always add personalization:

  • Personalization Area #1 - The Introduction Sentence
  • Personalization Area #2 - The Selling Point

First off, why the introduction sentence?

Answer: You get more bang for your buck when you personalize the top of the email because it’s read first and it’s shown in the inbox preview.

What’s more, our first sentence has more impact on open rate than our subject line!

preview text cold email

And here’s why I always personalize the selling point:

Each prospect on your list has unique “buying triggers”. Think about it. A CEO and a Director of Marketing aren’t losing sleep over the exact same problems, right?

But, if you mention the same benefit or problem to both roles, you’re likely to get a response like this:

I Dont Care GIF

So I use merge tags to make sure my email uses the right selling points, based on the prospect’s job title and industry.

Question #3 - What does a winning “personalization process” look like?

To master the personalization process, you first have to know how to write a great, custom introduction sentence.

I always mention a specific compliment or a shared commonality in my introduction sentences.

Why? Because psychologists in white lab coats say it works.

According to Robert Cialdini, “People prefer to say yes to those that they like. But what causes one person to like another? Persuasion science tells us that... we like people who pay us compliments.”


personalized emails how to find a commonality

Now that we know why a genuine compliment and a shared commonality will make your cold emails better, here’s how I find them for each prospect.

Open the prospect’s LinkedIn profile and look in 3 places.

  1. About section
  2. Shared connections
  3. Contact details

Typically, if your prospect is somewhat active on LinkedIn, you can find something in common or at least worthy of a compliment in these sections. And if not, the contact details may have some social channels to look at for more research.

As a last resort, go to the company website and click on the “About” page. This should have something you can use.

That said, here are few things I look for -- with personalization examples:

  1. A specific compliment about the company or prospect
  2. Awards
  3. “Heard you guys made the fastest growing SaaS list this year. Looks like I’m not the only lemlist fan out there”
  4. Hiring
  5. Saw you’re looking for a new python developer to join Dunder Mifflin. Let me know if I can make an intro for you
  6. Milestones
  7. Congrats on reaching 100K users. Would love to hear your “secret” to success sometime

Finding something in common with the prospect:

  1. Attended the same college
  2. Looks like we’re both alums at State College. Did you catch the game last Saturday?
  3. Know people in common
  4. “Small world, how do you know Michael Scott?”
  5. Live in the same city
  6. “Had to reach out when I saw we both work in downtown Scranton”
  7. Speak the same foreign language
  8. “Où as-tu appris à parler français?”
  9. Share a passion or hobby
  10. “Cool to see we’re both into mountain biking. How are the trails in Scranton?”

Finally, how do you personalize the selling point?

The easy way: Add a relevant case study based on their industry.

For example, everyone in e-commerce might get a sentence about your work with Harley Davidson. And everyone in the SaaS space could get your case study about your project with lemlist.

Or, divide your list by function (sales & marketing, for example) and write in a unique merge tag for the selling point that’s most important to that department.

Your email could look like this:

Hi {Name},

{Personalized Intro}

Anyways, this year we helped {Case Study} get {Result} and was curious if this was on your radar or not.

Is getting {Benefit} a priority at {Company} right now?


I’ll leave you with some good news and bad news. First, the bad news:

In 2020, you have to personalize your cold emails if you want to crush it with cold email. Period end of story. And that’s going to take more work.

The good news...

If you do cold email personalization well, you can expect 25-45% reply rates. Not kidding. That’s our average reply rate range right now across several hyper competitive b2b markets. But you have to either put in the leg work and do your personalization, or get someone to help you with that.

Go get 'em,