How to Write an Effective Email Subject Line

Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 12:16 PM EDT

Keith Rosen

Last week, I posted my own advice for writing an email subject line. However, I also forwarded the question to a REAL expert, the sales guru/trainer/author extraordinaire Keith Rosen. Here's what he had to say:

Are Your Emails Getting Deleted? Maybe It's Your Subject Line!


Developing an email template compelling enough to elicit a response from a prospect is hard enough. Unfortunately, this is only part of the challenge. What compounds this challenge are spam filters, firewalls and a slew of other devices that channel our innocent solicitation into the prospect's spam folder or worse, the trash; never to find its way to the inbox of our targeted prospect.

While the body of the email is critical when prospecting, the subject line will often determine whether or not the email will even be opened in the first place, gets caught in the recipient's spam/junk folder, is blocked by the firewall or is evaporated from existence by the stroke of the 'delete' key.

Building off the work from my book on cold calling, I spend a substantial amount of time with salespeople and sales teams helping them craft their prospecting systems and compelling email templates. However, we take just as much time ensuring the subject line in every email is on point in order to avoid the pitfalls I mentioned.

While crafting the body of the email message is a different topic altogether, in part one of this two part series on effective email strategies, here are some quick ideas to be mindful of to ensure your emails get opened in the first place. Keep in mind, some subject lines will work better than others, depending upon a variety of factors that you need to weigh in and be mindful of; including your:
  1. Target audience, their position as well as whether or not they are a client, a referral or someone you've never spoken with,
  2. Your product or service,
  3. Your sales cycle,
  4. Even the locations in which you sell, both domestically as well as internationally.
In terms of what to write in the subject line, here are a few ideas.

1. The Blank Subject line: As the recipient of an email with no subject line, first the recipient may peek at the sender. "Hmmm, looking at their email address they seem like a reputable sender but what is this about? Maybe this is important." Curiosity may take over and before you know it, they've opened up your email. Personally, I delete every email that does not have a subject line in it, unless I know who it's coming from personally; but that's me.


2. The Referral Subject Line: What if you're prospecting through referrals but the person you're sending the email to has not a clue who you are? Simple, lets say Jane Smith gave you the name and email of a viable prospect and decision maker. Most important, make sure you get permission from Jane that it's okay to mention her name in the email to this prospect. Next, in the subject line of the email you're sending to this prospect, you can write, "Jane Smith Suggested We Connect." Again, these are the strategies I use and my clients use with great success. This particular strategy turns a very cold email into a warmer, more inviting one.

3. The Cold Email Subject Line: Okay, so you have a name and an email address of a potential prospect but it's not a referral and you've never connected with them. It's a cold call in email form. What to do? Here's where you need to take your time and be articulate, brief, creative and compelling but tempered with a delicate balance between being creative and sounding to salesy. Here are a few examples. Fill in the blanks and edit accordingly to include your service, a signature client or a measurable compelling reason. Again, be mindful of getting permission from your clients to use their names as testimonials.
  • Recent Work We've Done For (state client)
  • Why (state a client or client's industry or profession) Choose Us
  • An Introduction and Recent Success With (State Client)
  • We Just Helped (Client) Reduce Their IT Costs by 35%
  • Recent Success With (state client)
Lets say you provide a lead generation or marketing service. Here's one that works well. The words in brackets are optional. Use at your discretion.
  • Who Do We Send Referrals(Leads) To (At Your Company?)
Here's another subject line strategy. Write a subject line that simply contains their industry name or name of their profession or a reference to their product or service. For example:
  • Need a Florist
  • Need a Mortgage
  • Need a Caterer
  • Need a Real Estate Agent
  • Need a Photographer
  • Interested In Your Services
  • Your Services
  • Your Products
  • Information About Your Services/Products
Of course, regardless of what subject line you use, your email message needs to support it but keep it brief and don't give away too much information to the point they have no need to follow up with you to ask for more.

One final tip. When you finally do connect with your prospect in person or over the phone (fine, even via email), interview your prospects to determine what it was that motivated them enough to respond. This way you can duplicate what works and develop your own set of best email practices.

It may take you several attempts to find the strategy that works best for you. Conversely, you may find a blend of these strategies to work if not all, depending upon the situation you're using them in. So be patient, be consistent, be pleasantly persistent when prospecting and remember, make sure you're tracking your results to gauge what works and what does not in order to continually refine and develop your masterful prospecting system.

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