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We signed up for 15 products – here’s what we learned about sales email subject lines

How to write great email subject lines for sales and conversions

By Josh Bean, Director, Marketing

Published June 20, 2019
Last updated May 5, 2021

Subject lines for sales emails should pack a wallop.

After all, you’re fighting for attention in a crowded arena. People are bombarded with nearly 150 emails a day, making it easy for a sales email to get ignored—especially if it’s coming in cold.

Email subject lines for sales campaigns should be carefully calculated for maximum attention-grabbing and prospect-engaging impact. You want something that stands out enough to catch a potential customer’s eye and is meaningful enough to earn their click.

The truly great subject lines for sales emails are the ones optimized for personalization, length, relevancy, and language. Take a look at how 15 different brands embody those aspects in their own sales subject lines.

Address your subject line to the reader

People want to receive a personalized message, not a generic pitch. Accenture found that 91 percent of customers are more likely to buy from brands that recognize and remember them, and provide them with relevant information. Even cold emails can benefit from personalization since it shows that the seller has really researched the contact before reaching out.

Include the contact’s name

Use the recipient’s name in your sales subject lines to grab the prospect’s attention and establish a personal connection with them.

Alexa’s sales email subject line

One underutilized personalization tactic is to use both the contact’s first and last name.

A study by Mailchimp compared the open rates for sales email subject lines that included first, last, and full names. They found that using the recipient’s full name in the subject line increased open rates twice as much as using just their last name and three times as much as using only their first name.

Use the word “you”

Too often, our inboxes are filled with lengthy, formal subject lines that ultimately scan as salesy. Cut through the stuffiness and take a more friendly approach by using second-person pronouns, like “you” and “your.”

Wistia’s sales email subject line

A study by Campaign Monitor found that using “Your / You / You!” as the first or last word in a subject line increased open rates by over 4% and 6%, respectively.

Subject lines like “Are you ready?” and “Have you tried XYZ?” are simple but effective at engaging the reader. The casual approach also lends a more conversational feel to your email.

Customize your subject line

Take advantage of email segmentation to make sure you’re sending contacts information that’s uniquely relevant to them. Use segmented lists and your CRM’s third-party email tool integrations, like the Mailchimp App for Zendesk, to create customized subject lines that individually speak to every prospect’s needs.

Chameleon’s sales email subject line

Start by organizing your email list by customer demographics, pain points, industries, and so on. Then, divide the customers in each segment according to their purchase stage. For example, if a small financial company is in the pre-purchase stage, create a subject line about “X best blog posts for finance startups.”

Track how well your custom sales subject lines are performing with different segments by looking at open rates, unsubscribe requests, and so on. See what type of content is connecting with different groups and what’s missing the mark.

Keep your sales subject lines short

Wordiness has been the death of many a subject line. A long subject line may be able to fit in more information, but it can also be more boring. That’s why Mailchimp advises against ever using more than 9 words or 60 characters in a subject line.

People have short attention spans, and lengthy sales subject lines beg to be skimmed over. Compare these two subject lines:

  • Get ready for our amazing product upgrade this summer to XYZ 4.0: Sign up today!
  • Are you ready for XYZ 4.0?

Which subject line are your eyes more drawn to? Most likely, the second one because you can scan the whole message in an instant.

And as Campaign Monitor points out, emails with shorter subject lines are not only more likely to get delivered, but can also create more mystery and intrigue with their abruptness.

Make your subject lines as brief as possible so your readers can easily scan them

Write 41-character subject lines

In addition to being more digestible, short subject lines are easier to read on a mobile device. The number of characters shown depends on the device, but most people view emails on iPhones and in Gmail, which display between 41 to 70 characters.

To keep your subject line legible on a smartphone screen, shoot for about 41 characters, or roughly seven words. It’s not a bad idea to shoot for even fewer if you can manage it—the shorter the subject line, the better the chance of standing out.

PandaDoc’s sales email subject line

Another tip? Think about using sentence case rather than title case. “Congrats on your Series B funding!” is much easier to read (and less spammy looking) than “Congrats On Your Series B Funding!” Sentence case also scans more like an actual message someone might send you.

Pique the reader’s interest with a tease

The best sales subject lines spark some curiosity. Convey that you have something the reader doesn’t, and they’ll have a reason to open your email.

The best way to hint at more valuable information is to ask a pointed question, share a snippet of data, or speak directly to a prospect’s pain point.

Ask a question

You don’t always have to give away the whole email in the subject line. Instead, pose a question that implies the nature of the content within.

A good question compels the reader to learn the answer and close their curiosity gap. Questions also sound more like the start of an actual human conversation rather than a computer-generated pitch.

FollowUp’s sales email subject line

Aim for the sort of questions that are thought-provoking and intriguing without giving away too much. A simple query like “Want to build a startup faster?” gets the reader thinking about how to accelerate growth but makes them click “open” for the solution.

Share data-based insights

Including numbers in blog headlines has been shown to boost clickthrough rates by over 200%, and citing hard data in your subject lines can have a similar impact on open and reply rates.

Build your prospect’s trust in your company by backing your claims with statistics. Talk with your marketing department about using your company’s own analytics to develop more data-based content. Then start sharing those resources, spotlighting their biggest data insights in your subject lines.

For example, if your company offers electronic signatures, find out how many of your clients use it to sign documents instead of signing paperwork that must be printed, signed, and mailed. A possible subject line could be “Decrease time to sign by XX%.”

CoSchedule’s sales email subject line

If you don’t have a lot of original data to work with, get creative with numbers. For example, “The 3 step guide to social selling” or “6 ways to improve content marketing” can also be effective at generating interest.

Speak to a specific pain point

Prospects don’t care about your company’s accomplishments as much as they want to know what you can do for them. How can your product or service solve their problem?

Use the subject line to demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the prospect and recognize their biggest challenges.

For example, retention is the lifeblood of any SaaS company. So this email from Appcues speaks to the challenge of guiding customers along the user journey so that they successfully adopt your software solution.

Appcues’ sales email subject line

Other possible subject lines include “X blogs for [pain point]” or “How to improve [pain point].” This type of sales subject line makes you seem more customer-centric than product-centric, which speaks more to their needs than your own.

Pack valuable information into your subject line

If the reader feels like they can fill a gap in their knowledge base, they’re more likely to click your email.

First, use tools like your CRM to leverage customer analytics and learn about your audience. What questions are current customers asking customer support? What are their main concerns? Then, use the information you glean to craft sales subject lines that promise help.

Be direct

You don’t always have to be crazy creative with subject lines. If you’re offering something of value, let the content speak for itself. Clearly state the exact benefit the reader will gain from opening your email.

Chargify’s sales email subject line

For example, “Introducing the 2019 Social Selling Report” or “[Your Company] Video Content Marketing Guide” are subject lines that get straight to the point and convey exactly what the reader will receive.

Tell me something I don’t know

It’s good to research your prospect’s pain points and craft a message that speaks to them. But many times, prospects don’t know what they don’t know. In these cases, you can pique their interest by raising a concern they might not have considered before.

For example, this subject line from DocuSign casts doubts on the “safety” of traditional signatures, which most business leaders have probably never questioned.

DocuSign’s sales email subject line

Catch a prospect’s eye with something they probably haven’t thought about—a potential unrecognized security risk or an overlooked inefficiency. Then provide an article or resource that explains the issue in depth.

Live up to your subject line

Have you ever fallen in love with the picture of a product online but then felt disappointed when it arrived and looked nothing like the photo? An email can contain the same sort of disappointment if you don’t deliver on the subject line’s promise.

Airtable’s email subject line

Don’t trick your readers with empty subject line clickbait. It may boost your open rate, but it won’t help you actually convert. If your subject line says that you’ll be sharing “10 tricks on how to improve employee retention,” ensure that the content meets the expectations you’ve established.

Experiment with the language of your sales subject line

Writing sales subject lines is a balancing act between descriptiveness and brevity. For example, the subject line “Crush your social selling techniques” is more immediately engaging than “How to social sell,” even if it is longer.

Try to weave words together in a way that’s both intriguing and direct. There are many effective ways to change up the tone of your sales email subject lines, whether you want them to be more pointed or more playful.

Create a sense of urgency

Inserting urgent language into sales subject lines can lead to 22 percent higher open rates.

Of course, you don’t want to abuse the power of urgency by overusing it. Retailers that insist “our best sale ever is ending soon” every couple of days quickly become the brand who cried wolf. Customers recognize the “manufactured urgency” of promotional gimmicks, so it’s important to make legitimate rather than hyperbolic claims.

An effectively urgent sales email subject line lets the reader know that they’ll actually miss out on something if they don’t click on your message.

In the email below, YNAB reminds the reader that their free trial is expiring with an eye-grabbing “One Week Left!”

YNAB’s email subject line

Try implying time sensitivity in your messages to increase the open rate. It’s harder to hit “snooze” on an email when you can see that there’s a hard deadline.

Or, give the recipient more time

The flip side of the urgent “You’re running out of time!” subject line is the “There’s still time!” approach. Both types of subject line communicate that the clock is running out. However, one feels more like a warning, while the other reads like a reprieve.

Ebbets Field Flannels email subject line

Extending a free trial or discount opportunity can give fence-sitting prospects a little more time to commit. Without coming across as desperate, go ahead and give a prospect more leeway if you think they’re close to converting.

Thank the recipient

Everyone appreciates being appreciated, so it’s not surprising that a well-placed thank you increases email open rates. Saying “I wanted to say thank you . . .” or “Thank you for . . .” shows gratitude, which helps you forge a closer bond with the recipient.

Zendesk Sell’s email subject line

One great thing about a “thank you” sales subject line is that even if the reader doesn’t open it, they’ll still see your appreciation. It’s a polite display of friendliness that’s practically guaranteed to be noticed.

Give alliterations a try

If used correctly, alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds) can help make your subject line memorable. Even just stringing together a couple of words that work well together can eliminate the monotony of an email. “Want to master memorable marketing?” or “The sale of the season” have a nice ring to them that draws the reader in.

CB Insights’ email subject line

There’s no need to go overboard. You want a subject line that’s catchy, not a tongue twister (hopefully, what you’re selling is not seashells by the seashore). Experiment with different word pairings and find what sounds best for your brand.

Have fun with emojis

Though they’re not always appropriate for the message you’re conveying, emojis do have their place in sales email subject lines. A study by Search Engine Journal found that subject lines with emojis had a slightly lower open rate than those without but boasted a higher click-through rate.

Dylan’s Candy Bar email subject line

The research also showed that if you do use emojis, it’s best to put them at the end of the subject line rather than the start.

It’s also important to keep your audience in mind. For example, lots of B2C businesses can get away with emojis, while B2B businesses risk looking unprofessional. Age is also a factor—68 percent of American millennials view emojis positively, while just 37 percent of those over 65 feel the same.

Keep honing your email subject lines for sales success

There are obviously a lot of different ways to optimize a sales email subject line. The best method is to experiment with multiple approaches and find out what works best.

A CRM like Zendesk can help you track the success of your sales emails. Conduct A/B testing to compare subject lines of different lengths and styles, and use your CRM to capture and analyze the results. Examine the open rates to see which sales subject lines resonate most with your contacts. Along with email testing features, Zendesk offers email templates and automation features to help with campaign creation.

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