The Most Effective Email Subject Lines for Sales

Welcome to #Salesblazer Q&A, a column by sales pros, for sales pros. Get answers to your burning questions about the best ways to sell, learn, and grow in this ever-changing field. Have a question? Ask it here.

Dear Salesblazer: “What email subject lines for sales actually get opens?” — Candi Chuburu, membership director at Inspirato, a luxury vacation company

Dear Candi: I’ve spent much of my decades-long career helping teams get email communication down. It’s one of the most successful channels for prospecting, and that’s not going away. In fact, research firm McKinsey said it’s 40 times more effective at hooking a customer than social media. To answer your question, I’ve compiled a list of the email subject lines for sales that have worked for me — and for several of my colleagues — over the years. These not only get opens, but more often than not, they get the response you need to move the deal ahead. — John Barrows, CEO, SellBetter by JB Sales

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Elements of a good email subject line for sales

Whether you’re cold-emailing or following up on a prospect who’s gone MIA, an email subject line needs to spark interest. To increase your chance of an open, make sure it’s authentic, positive, and not obviously promotional or sales-y (for example, avoid words like “buy”). Whenever possible, the best email subject lines for sales should also be:

  • Attention-grabbing. Hit your prospect with something top of mind or relevant for them: news in their industry, kudos on a project they’ve worked on recently, or a request for their expertise. 
  • Short and sweet. My colleague Cherilynn Castleman, managing partner at CGI Executive Coaching, recommends using only six or seven words. I recommend three to four. In either case, you have just a few seconds to capture your reader’s attention and get them to click. 
  • Positive. Keep it positive. Focus on creating opportunity and value. 
  • Personalized. Use a customized subject line that treats your prospect like the unique human they are. “No one likes to be treated like just another name on a list,” Castleman said. 
  • Timely and relevant. Make sure your subject line addresses key questions the prospect has, like: “Why now?,” “Why me?,” and “Why my industry?” This will help you quickly make your case for a buy to your prospects. 
  • Focused on a problem. Every email you send should address a customer’s problem — and your subject line, combined with the email copy, should offer a solution.

The best email subject lines for sales 

An open-worthy subject line captures your prospect’s attention without annoying them, all in a few words. It’s a tall order, but I’m here to help. Below, I’ve grouped into buckets some of the best subject lines I’ve discovered: classic cold emails for prospecting, follow-up emails to keep the conversation going, and subject lines for prospects who seem to be ignoring you entirely.

Subject lines for cold emails

Ah, the cold email. Most reps don’t like writing them and many prospects don’t like receiving them, but they’re a common first step in the prospecting process. The focus here is to get the conversation started. Keep it warm, relevant, and direct. 

1. {Company Name} + {Prospect Name} 

Why it works: Tailoring your subject line to a specific person at a specific company implies that you’re already thinking about your prospect’s unique business. Keep them hooked by addressing a topic or problem that matters to them, and do it early in your email copy.  

2. {Goal or problem}

Why it works: Opening with a problem you want to solve for your prospect grabs their attention and shows you’re attuned to their needs.

Example: Motivating your sales team 

3. {Shared interest or connection}, {an issue or problem they’re familiar with}, {new strategy/solution} 

Why it works: In just a few words, you can make a connection and tease a better one. String together three associated words or phrases separated by commas: an interest you share with the prospect, a problem, and a solution. It’s relevant, it shows you understand the problems they’re facing, and it offers a next step.

Example: ChatGPT, lost productivity, writing sales emails

Why it works: A referral in the subject line builds trust and credibility. One caveat: Make sure the reference is legit. Don’t pull those LinkedIn stunts. That will get you blocked. 

5. {One word} 

Why it works: Using a single word like “Thanks,” “Update,” or “Thoughts?” is intriguing enough to increase your open rates and capture attention in a sea of longer subject lines. 

Example: Thoughts?

6. {Insert question about a timely or industry-specific topic} 

Why it works: Asking a question — especially about a pain point affecting the prospect’s industry — shows you value their expertise. The ego stroke often earns engagement out of the gate.

Example: How are you handling abandoned cart rates? 

7. Will you be my plus one? 

Why it works: This asks a prospect to come on a journey with you — and makes them feel included.

8. X things smart {prospect’s role}s do

Why it works: This one taps into the prospect’s desire to be the best at what they do. In the body of the email, be sure to pay off the promise by describing specific actions they should take. 

9. Can I help? 

Why it works: Offering help right away tells the prospect you’re in their corner and are focused on offering solutions. In fact, this is backed up by a stat in the most recent State of Sales report from Salesforce: 87% of business buyers expect sales reps to act as trusted advisors. 

10. Looking for input

Why it works: Asking for feedback lets your prospect know you’re willing to listen, which inspires trust and makes them more likely to share insights that will help you in the sales process. A word of caution from my VP of Events & Operations, Kevin Johnson: Only ask this if you’re really open to honest — and potentially critical — feedback.

Subject lines for follow-up emails 

Follow-up emails are used after you’ve already reached out — via cold email, phone call, LinkedIn message, or other channel — and the prospect has sent an initial response, then gone quiet. Writing this type of email is a balancing act. To increase the chance of an open, you want to reiterate value and connection without being pushy or repetitive.  When possible, make it clear you understand their needs and have valuable insights to share.

1. {Company Name} <> {Company Name}

Why it works: This subject line keeps your company top of mind. It also suggests you have a mutually beneficial relationship. If the prospect wants to maintain the relationship, though, they have to engage. 

2. Competitors are doing this to bounce back …  

Why it works: This does a few things: It addresses a relevant problem and piques curiosity around what competitors are doing to solve it, while also tapping into a bit of competitive spirit. “One of my clients increased her open rate from 3% to 12% with this subject line,” Castleman told me. 

3. Can I be honest? 

Why it works: “In my experience, a provocative question tends to perform better than statement headlines,” Castleman said. This intro invites readers in while creating a feeling of trust. It also suggests there’s some “tea” spilled in the email.

4. {X} options to get started

Why it works: Prospects love a short list of actionable items that can move them closer to implementing your solution. Inside the email, keep the list of options clear and brief: “Call me for a quote” or “Send me an email with your top three product questions.”

5. Me again, I know … but there’s a lot of cool stuff happening

Why it works: Using cheeky ways to keep a conversation going can be disarming and can help you stand out from the crowd. This subject line caught Castleman’s eye because it acknowledged that the sales rep was re-emailing the prospect (“I know”), but it also made her laugh and want to know more. 

6. I thought about what you said …  

Why it works: This reminds your prospect that you listened closely to what they said during initial conversations, and suggests you have something of value to offer.

7. Did I lose you? 

Why it works: I discovered this while testing ways to re-engage prospects after a gap in communication, and it led to a 47% open rate, making it my new magic trick. It’s authentic, conversational, and a little vulnerable. 

8. Still interested? 

Why it works: This puts the ball in the prospect’s court while avoiding pushiness, reminding them that they were interested in what you offered. Often, I find they’ll click through to remind themselves of what I talked about and why it piqued their interest.

9. Have you given up on {initiative}? 

Why it works: This one comes from Chris Voss, CEO and author of “Never Split the Difference.” No one wants to feel like they’re giving up on something they’ve already invested time in. This taps the guilt/shame reflex, which can be effective, but don’t use it more than once or you’ll alienate them.

Prospects who haven’t responded at all

Some prospect outreach never gets a response, but that’s not always due to a lack of interest. If you’ve hit this stage, reemphasize your willingness to connect and help, so that when a prospect is ready, you’re the one they talk to. Oh, and putting on the charm might get a laugh and a reply.

1. A quick video for you 

Why it works: A recent LinkedIn study showed that video is an effective way of generating interest and spurring action. Share a link to a brief video of yourself that directly addresses your prospect and lets them know why you’re so eager to connect. It’s personal, and that hits home.    

2. Our call next week … 

Why it works: If you don’t have a call on the books with an MIA prospect, the best way to schedule one is to proceed like it’s already a plan. They’ll be curious about the meeting (“Did I forget?”), and follow up to clarify. This gives you a chance to hook them with something of immediate relevance and value.

3. Meeting invite: {date} 

Why it works: An invite makes the prospect feel special, and a preselected date gives them something concrete to respond to. If they’re not available, but interested, they’re likely to respond with a “I’m not free that day, but can do X day instead.” 

4. {Unexpected question}? 

Why it works: In a sea of emails, a little levity can help you stand out. Asking an absurd question will up your open rates. Just be sure to offer some relevant value in the email itself. For the example above, you could point them to a video so the outreach doesn’t feel like a bait and switch. 

Example: Netflix password?

5. Reaching out one last time (LMK if I can help) 

Why it works: This approach is low on aggressiveness, inviting (not pushing) the prospect to respond. It also adds a sense of urgency: They’re prompted to let you know why they’ve gone dark, which will help you craft a response that will engage them on their terms.

6. Saying no? 

Why it works: This functions as a “pattern interrupt.” Your prospect is not expecting this language, and it prompts the response, “What am I saying no to?” This often leads to opens so they can get more information.

Crafting better email subject lines for sales, one test at a time

The best way to curate winning email subject lines is to try them all over time, and collect data on open rates. What worked last week might not necessarily work next week. Set up a process and a structure to constantly test, and be willing to adapt.

Want open-worthy emails? We’ll write them for you.

Use EinsteinGPT to draft high-performing emails based on simple prompts.

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