The data and personalization behind Clearbit's onboarding emails

The data and personalization behind Clearbit's onboarding emails

January 23, 2019

ClearPaws How Clearbit Uses Clearbit: This series shares how we use Clearbit products for acquisition, conversion, and operations.

At Clearbit, we waited about three and a half years to get our first SDR. Since we didn’t have enough sales reps to welcome all our new users, we used highly-personalized onboarding emails to reach out to promising leads and suggest a conversation with an AE. In the absence of human touch, data helps us create a virtual welcome mat.

New user onboarding is a particularly ripe moment for us to do automated outreach on behalf of sales. Clearbit sells products to B2B and enterprise companies, but we also have free consumer products that attract a large volume of signups. Many of them are just regular consumers — and a few of them are companies that would make excellent leads. Our sales reps don’t immediately attend to either group personally, because the volume is just too high to sort through.

Instead, we use data to identify the good signups, then send them personalized onboarding emails that appear to come directly from a rep. These emails attempt to turn the lead into a hand-raise so that our small sales team gets a pre-qualified conversation — and they’re really effective.

onboarding is a good opportunity for automating sales outreach

We started with a simple email that came in three flavors for different segments. The open rate was great (59%), and so was the conversion rate: 6% became paying customers. Once we saw how well it worked — and that it was much more enticing to new users than a blanket welcome email — we decided to test a more sophisticated approach by turning up the customization in one super-personalizable email sequence that can talk to Tier 1 customers who fall into the three segments, and many more.

Here's the running test: we built the email but aren't sending it yet. Our hypothesis is that this automated Swiss Army knife will be as effective as manual emails from the SDR team we’ve recently hired. So for 6 weeks, we’re having SDRs personally write onboarding emails to qualified signups. Once their time is up — we’ll flip on this automated email and see how it performs in comparison. If it wins, then our SDRs will be free to do more high-priority tasks.

For now, we’ll give you a sneak peek of what the emails looks like: an overview of the data and personalization that went into the first version of the email, and then our new, augmented version.

Our personalized, automated onboarding email — the simple version

For this first version of our personalized onboarding email, a new signup could get one of three variations, depending on the technology they used.

When a new user signed up for a free Clearbit account, we created a lead in Salesforce and enriched their record with Clearbit data using Enrichment. Then, we qualified and segmented them. Each new signup received an automated welcome email based on their role; if Clearbit data indicated that someone was in marketing, they got a marketing-specific email; sales got sales-specific; developers got engineering-specific — and everyone else got a catch-all version.

Next, we triggered the personalized onboarding email campaign to encourage hand-raises for sales, based on what technology a lead's company already uses. The campaign’s goal was to educate leads about our technology integrations and get them to upgrade to a paid Clearbit account.

In configuring the email personalization, we looked at their Clearbit tech tags to see whether they used Salesforce, Marketo, and Segment, and then sent one of three versions of the email that highlighted use cases for that particular software. We stack-ranked their priority using multiple Liquid if-statements in; if someone used both Segment and Marketo, they were bucketed into one of them, based on their strategic priority for us.

Here's an example:

{% if customer.clearbit_company_tech contains 'segment' %}Segment{% elsif customer.clearbit_company_tech contains 'marketo' %}Marketo{% endif %}

Leads received an automated onboarding message, personalized with their name and highlighting Clearbit’s integration with that software. In the following example, the recipient was using Segment:

onboarding email example

These short and sweet messages performed really well (59% open, 6% conversion). Given the success of the simple three-flavors email, we decided to increase the personalization so we could have one onboarding sequence that dealt with many more customizable fields and permutations.

Hyper-personalization: Onboarding email for Tier 1 leads

Now for the email we’re putting to the test. We call this our Tier 1 sequence because it’s designed to provide a great onboarding experience for new signups that have a high lead score. It has the same goal as the previous email: get the recipient talking to sales.

Here’s how it works. After we enrich a new lead in Salesforce with Clearbit data, we give them a lead score and evaluate their eligibility to receive the Tier 1 onboarding email:

  • Do they have a lead score that puts them into a Tier 1 lead category?
  • Tech tags: do they use Salesforce, Marketo, Segment, Pardot, or Eloqua?
  • Are they a paying customer already? (If yes, exclude them.)
  • Did they enter a company email rather than a personal email?

If they don’t fit the right criteria, they'll receive a standardized welcome email immediately upon signup — one that doesn’t try to elicit a hand raise for sales. But if they qualify for our Tier 1 sequence, they won’t get a message right away. Instead, they'll get an automated note 20 minutes after signup that looks like it’s directly from a sales rep. Over the next week or so, they’ll receive three more automated emails in the sequence.

The emails are super-personalized based on the contact’s name, role, team, time zone, company tech tag, and type of business. What the lead sees is short and to the point.

Here’s an example of the first email in the sequence, which highlights Clearbit’s Salesforce integration for a tech company, with the name of the recipient’s company in the subject line:

onboarding email personalized for Salesforce integration

This version of the email highlights Clearbit’s Marketo integration for another example recipient.

onboarding email personalized with index

The emails are short and subtle, but are packed with optimizations:

  • Subject: The subject line highlights the company name, such as “Tealium is a perfect fit for Clearbit.”
  • Body copy:
    • Contact’s first name
    • Company name
    • Company tag: Based on a scan of the company’s website, Clearbit deduces the type of company it is. We highlight keywords like “B2B SaaS, enterprise, b2c, marketplaces, etc.”
    • Team: Clearbit works for both sales teams and marketing teams, so we scan the contact’s record to see which team they work for. The email is then tailored to solve “the marketing team’s data needs” or “the sales team’s marketing needs.” If we don’t have info on their team, we simply say that “we solve their sales and marketing needs.”
    • Role, tech tag, Alexa rank: If the contact is in a marketing role and the tech tag shows that they use Marketo, we highlight Clearbit’s Marketo integration. If not, we fall back to highlighting our Salesforce integration. If they also don’t use Salesforce, but their Alexa rank is low enough, then we show them our Reveal product. And if none of the above applies, we simply mention our “native CRM integrations.” If their role is in sales, we do the same thing but emphasize Salesforce instead of Marketo as the default. If the contact is neither in sales nor marketing, we highlight Clearbit’s Enrichment product.
    • CTA: The call to action of the email is to schedule a call with sales, and it’s worded differently depending on the day of the week. If it’s early in the week, we’ll say, “What day/time works for you later this week?” If it’s Thursday or Friday, this changes to, “What day/time works for you early next week?”
    • Signature/Sender: The email is signed by the sales rep who owns the lead in Salesforce, and the sender reflects the name of the lead.
  • Send time: We wait to send the email during the recipient’s working hours. We grab their location from Clearbit data, convert it to a time zone, and then send it when they’re likely to be at work.


With all these behind-the-scenes customizations, which make the email seem like it was composed on the spot by an SDR, this short message corresponds to a much longer page of Liquid text:


We think this customized yet automated email system will be as effective as humans at identifying free signups that could be great customers, then enticing them to raise their hands and talk to sales one-on-one.

Want to try automated onboarding emails? Take baby steps

If you’re slow to hire salespeople, you need to get smart with data and build automated, personalized onboarding emails that’ll do the heavy lifting for you.

But start small. There’s no need to write three pages of personalization code right away. It took us years to get to the point where we understand our target customers enough to be able to qualify them accurately and design a catch-all custom email. And we’re going to be testing and iterating on it for a long time to come.

Begin by creating one automated onboarding email as a baseline, and then test small variations for different segments. Go for incremental gains instead of wide-sweeping changes. Over time, Clearbit will help you create emails with a personal touch that rivals even that of your best SDRs.

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