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Email Subject Lines That Get Opened

Email subject lines are tricky. In under 3 seconds your prospects determine if they’re going to open your email – or trash it. That’s what I call the email delete barrier.

But, the rules of what works and what doesn’t for email subject lines are an ever-changing landscape. Unless you’re following email trends closely, it’s difficult to know when things change.

Today, people are hitting delete faster than ever. Even if they know you, and they’re in the middle of the sales process with you, they may still delete your emails before reading.

“That’s not fair!” you might think.

And you might be right. But fair or not, it’s reality of email.

So, whether you’re running lead generation campaigns or you’re emailing a prospect to follow up on a proposal, you need a damn good email subject line to get prospects to open up.

General Email Subject Line Guidelines

Throughout the sales process, the rules change a bit. But here are three general email guidelines:

  1. Keep it short and grabby.
  2. No questions. For the most part, questions don’t work anymore. There are exceptions, like when you’re deep in the sales process.
  3. Make it personal. Generic subject lines like “checking in” or “following up” are much more likely to get discarded.

Here are some examples of effective email subject lines at different points in the sales process:

Email prospecting and lead generation campaigns
Subject lines should be short and speak to the reader about a top of mind priority you suspect they have. I’m not talking about putting their name in the subject line. I’m talking about subject lines that resonate and feel as though you’re addressing your reader’s problem personally. These two work well:

  • “A thought about compliance risk”
  • “A recommendation about your phone system”

Prospects who have gone silent
When you’re not getting a response and meetings have been delayed or cancelled, your subject lines need to remind these contacts why they were talking to you in the first place. What interested them? Get those facts into the subject line like this. (Notice that these may be slightly longer subject lines.)

  • “The February 16 training you wanted to run”
  • “The 3 compliance concerns you wanted to address”

Last ditch effort

You’ve delivered your proposal. Now your prospect who promised to “get back you” isn’t responding to calls and emails. Having a strong “last ditch effort” subject line in your back pocket can bring a prospect back into the conversation. My favorites:
“Did we lose?”

  • “Did you choose someone else?”

They almost always gets a response – and yes these are questions!

While subject lines aren’t the only determinant of email prospecting success, they directly impact if your emails will get opened. It’s time to give them attention and write a damn good subject line that your prospects can’t ignore.

Now some homework for you: look at 5 prospecting emails you sent this week. What can you switch up to improve your results? And, what worked? Do it again!


kendra-leeKendra Lee is president of KLA Group, which works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the Small and Midmarket Business (SMB) segment. Read more blogs from Kendra here.

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