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The Anatomy of a Perfect Sales Email Subject Line

Your best and worst-performing email subject lines may seem like a random collection. But we’ve got good news for reps looking to increase their open and response rates: Successful subject lines actually share several common characteristics.

Once you know the science of a compelling line, you can focus on the art.

Perfect the seven essential components below and you'll have a high-performing sales email subject line on your hands. 

Let email expert, Heather Morgan, teach you How To Craft Alluring Subject Lines (new video course with workbook!)

1) Creative

The human brain craves novelty, so creative subject lines tend to perform better than vanilla ones.

A fresh or unexpected subject line also suggests that this message is different than the other sales emails prospects receive -- and delete without reading.

With that in mind, reps should use creative sales email subject lines they find online as inspiration rather than copy-and-paste solutions.

Powerful subject lines usually spread quickly throughout the sales community -- by tweaking them, reps can guarantee they won’t be emailing prospects with ubiquitous lines.

Some of outreach expert Heather Morgan's most successful subject lines have been as offbeat as “11 chicken eggs” and “kimchi and octopus.”

They worked because they were out of the ordinary and attention-grabbing. But they were also a teaser to the story the reader would discover inside the email.

Being a little quirky is effective, but keep in mind this strategy isn’t about coming up with weird or random phrases to “scam” people into opening your emails. Instead, figure out what’s unique and interesting about your message and use that to pique the reader’s curiosity.

Fear can also be a powerful trigger to get people to open your email.

You can use the subject line to evoke the fear of losing business to a competitor or missing out on important information. The more you know your reader, the easier it will be to use this strategy.

Heather found subject lines like “problem with [Company Name] website” are highly successful because they evoke strong emotions.

But be careful: You don’t want to literally scare your reader away.

2) Clear

It can be tempting to sacrifice clarity for cleverness. However, research from AWeber Communications found that straightforward subject lines get 541% more clicks than witty or amusing ones.

The takeaway? Don’t try to be funny in your subject line.

Here’s an example of a funny subject line versus a clear one:

Clever: “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know”

Clear: “Closing your file”

3) Personalized

Reusing subject lines can be efficient -- but only if the subject line is right for that specific prospect at that specific time. For instance, if a salesperson discovers via LinkedIn that her prospect works at a conservative organization, she shouldn’t use a subject line with an emoji in it. However, one with a smiley face might go over well with a prospect at a more informal company.

Reps can also personalize subject lines to their prospects by inserting their names and/or company names and referencing relevant challenges or goals.

To give you an idea, here’s one subject line written two different ways:

Prospect #1: “Does Boone need to hire support reps?”

Prospect #2: “How’s BlueInc’s talent pipeline?”

HubSpot sales rep Ali Powell takes this strategy one step further by creating personalized subject lines for every email she sends. Powell browses her prospects’ social media accounts, blog posts, websites, and more to find interesting facts she can reference in her subject line. Here are a couple she’s previously used:

  • “love that you were in a band""
  • “Someone from your Myrtle Beach location”

4) Concise

Effective subject lines are usually short. Most email platforms cut off subject lines after 50 characters (or roughly eight words). That’s the number to watch if salespeople want their entire subject lines to appear in their prospects’ inboxes.

However, they might consider using even fewer words. According to an analysis of more than 40 million emails, subject lines with three of four words generate the most responses.

Since most prospects scroll through their inboxes quickly, a short subject line usually has a better chance of grabbing their attention.

To shrink a subject line, salespeople should use short words and remove unnecessary ones.

Before: “When you’re scaling rapidly, incurring technical debt is inevitable”

After: “Technical debt at Darkne”

5) Human

The average person gets nearly 100 marketing emails per day.

As a result, prospects don’t typically prioritize emails that appear promotional -- even if they’re actually from a person.

Reps can do a few things to distinguish their emails from marketing ones. First, they should only capitalize the first word in the subject line and any proper nouns, like so:

  • “Fellow Bentley grad"
  • “Jacob Sand suggested I reach out”
  • “Brilliant post on VoIP, Rachel”

Salespeople should also steer clear of using caps lock, exclamation marks, or “salesy” words like “discount”, “promotion,” “coupon,” “sale,” “special,” and so forth.

6) Accurate

Reps who use misleading subject lines are shooting themselves in the foot. An intriguing line will probably improve their open rate -- but if the email itself doesn’t match up, prospects will feel tricked. It’s like ordering a dish based on the mouthwatering picture in the menu and receiving something completely different.

A salesperson can test how well his subject lines align with his messages by asking a few team members, “What do you think this email is about based on this subject line?” If their answers dramatically differ from reality, it’s a good indicator the line is deceptive.

7) Contextual

The subject line isn’t the only thing buyers look at when deciding whether to read a message. They also look at the preview text, or the first few lines of an email that appear next to the subject line before the recipient opens it.

Because these show up side-by-side, reps should try not to repeat their subject line in the first line of their message.

Subject line: “Fixing Yadiya’s low Yelp rating”

Preview text: “Dear Cam, Fixing Yadiya’s low Yelp rating is probably … ”

Subject line: “Fixing Yadiya’s low Yelp rating”

Preview text: “Dear Cam, Customers are 60% less likely … ”

Not only is the second example more enticing, it also communicates more information in the same number of words.

Crafting great subject lines on a consistent basis is a challenge for every rep. If you’re out of ideas, look through your old messages to see which lines got the most responses -- then draft similar ones.

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