The Easy Way I Sent Personalized Holiday Emails

This year, my firm decided to send a mass holiday email rather than paper cards.

And like every marketing choice you make, there were advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages:

  1. We could send holiday messages to many more people.
  2. We could include a “virtual gift,” something even a public official could accept.
  3. We could learn which emails in our system were incorrect.

The disadvantage were:

  1. This email would be sent by the firm, not individuals, so the ability to personalize the message was no longer there.
  2. It wasn’t appropriate to send this firm email to some of my regular contacts (I.e. They would have no interest in the “gift”).

So, I decided to send personalized emails prior to our firm’s blast email. And I’m going to share exactly how you can do it too.

Sending Personalized Holiday Emails

I have well over 1,000 professional contacts. Sending even 100 of these people a personalized message wouldn’t be just tough, it would have been impractical.

But for the last couple months, I’ve been using Zurmo as my personal CRM/Contact Manager. So, it was time for Zurmo to shine.

In this article, I’m going to talk specifically about Zurmo, but your CRM may have the same functionality.

Personalizing Emails With Zurmo

Zurmo has list building and email marketing built into it. You can read more about Zurmo’s “email marketing” capabilities here.

Rather than send one email to a big list of people, I made a few different lists of people:

A. My really close contacts who do so much to help me. It’s not uncommon for me to communicate with these people every month or so. B. People who have been instrumental in my career, but I’m really not in constant communication with. C. People who I haven’t seen or talked to in 2013 (usually people in far off states). D. Current clients that I’ve brought in. E. Past clients that I’ve brought in. F. Teaming partners. G. My other industry contacts I see or speak to on a regular basis.

In Zurmo, you create email templates that you can send to your lists. I created seven email templates (one for each group). These templates had merge fields so I could mention their name and/or firm in the email.

Here’s an example of an email template I used for teaming partners.

custom holiday emails

And here’s what it looked like once it was sent.


Changing The Defaults

There was some configuration I had to do. In the settings, I had to connect my email account (which I had done a while ago).

I also took the default Can Spam Act footers from the autoresponder/campaign footer (under global settings). That way, people couldn’t tell this was a mass email (which, I’ll explain, it technically wasn’t). Also, this was a nice, personalized email…not a marketing piece.

But I had to put something in the footer’s place. I replaced it with our firm’s confidentiality language/legal mumbo jumbo. That way it looked like a typical email from me (in the latest version of Zurmo, this setting is under “marketing settings”).


I also set the system to only send 1 email at a time (this is in the global settings under batch amount). Therefore, I was technically emailing each person individually. Email systems would have no reason to see this as a bulk email because it wasn’t.

Testing The Email

I’ve set up a test list in Zurmo. I always send to this list first. It is comprised of fake records in my system that connect to real email addresses I own.

So Fred Flinstone, Barney Rubble, and Bam Bam Rubble always get the emails first. I highly recommend that you always send test emails.

In fact, even though I tested, I still had to make adjustments after I sent to the first group.

Spotting a Mail Merge a Mile Away

Humans are great at picking up on patterns. They can smell a form letter/email a mile away.

In fact, after I sent my first batch, a contact of mine, who knew I had been experimenting with email lately, sent me this:

“Was this a group email? Mail Merge? A/B Test?”

The problem with my first batch was it looked “off.” I had accidentally sent an earlier draft of my template.

It said:

“HI Melissa,”

It should have said:

“Hey Melissa,”

Do you see how the first one looks “formy?” People will pick up on that immediately.

That draft email template also mentioned the person’s boss. However, not everybody on that list had a boss. People will pick up on inconsistencies like that (Matt knows I don’t have a boss!). So, you have to know your list and make sure the message is not inconsistent with anyone’s reality.

The trick is being extremely casual, while generically addressing that audience. Then you sprinkle in merge fields to customize it.

Breaking your list up into multiple groups is also going to help a great deal. With seven groups, it was much easier to send emails that were more specific to my relationship with that person.

Another thing you have to remember is your CRM should NEVER have a person’s formal first name.

Let me give you an example. My business card says, “Matthew Handal.” But nobody calls me Matthew. So, if I get an email that says, “Hey Matthew,” I immediately know this email was not written by a person.

There are no Timothys in my system, because nobody goes by Timothy (at least nobody in my world).

I also didn’t send emails to just anyone. Remember, my firm was scheduled to send out a blast email in a few weeks.

The Results

Using Zurmo, I sent out well over 100 personalized holiday emails over the course of a day. That would have been impossible to do manually in that timeframe.

I found Zurmo’s tracking of open rates wasn’t 100% accurate because I got responses from people who it said hadn’t opened the email.

I received a lot of great responses back too. Just about everybody I sent an email to responded back. It is certainly something I will do during the holidays moving forward.

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  1. Yeah I have still yet to fully convince my Operations Director and IT Manager of the joys of switching from our internally built systems to Zurmo… But anyway I digress.

    We use Dotmailer for all our email marketing (it was in use when I arrived and personally I still prefer Adestra), anyway there are multiple dynamic content options you can do.

    If you used dynamic content then you would only need to alter portions of the message depending on the recipient and the system would only send them the desired content – rather than building multiple emails etc. The most used version of this is the salutation that changes depending on the recipients name etc, however dynamic content means you could have alternate images or links etc.

    So maybe run the full dynamic content idea past Ray at Zurmo Matt? It would be good if they could integrate it as I could then argue the toss for switching CRMs and email providers!

    Anyway food for thought – have a great holiday and seasons greetings.



    • Matt Handal says


      Thank you for commenting. I’d love to hear an example of how you can use this dynamic content and still make it look personalized.

      What I was doing with multiple lists with separate emails, was similar. But I fear creating one email with dynamic content might still seem a little too “formy.”

      Zurmo is continuing to evolve at tremendous pace. Right now, I’m focusing my assistance on the further development of their “project management” module (which I have been using quite a bit).

      I’m sure Ray would be happy to talk to you or anyone about Zurmo. He’s already talked to a few HEE readers.

      Email me through the contact form if you would like his number.

    • Matt Handal says

      Will do. Thank you for commenting Ben.

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