I get asked this question fairly often by fellow sales reps: How do you know your buyer will open your prospecting emails?

Answer: You don’t. What the buyer does with your message once you hit “send” is beyond your control. But what is in your control is making your email stand out by getting creative.

Your prospects and buyers get emails ALL DAY long. Think about that for a minute. If you cannot get your buyer to open your carefully crafted and personalized message, then all of your research and ideas on how you might be able to help go to waste.

With this in mind, the subject line is arguably the most important part of your email because it’s what gets the buyer to open and read. The secret to writing an intriguing subject line isn’t so difficult -- you simply need to write something that would be interesting to the potential buyer (note: not something that necessarily interests you). Remember: Sales isn’t about you -- it’s about them. Always.

I want to zero in on one type of subject line in particular. In my experience, buyers always say the best way for a salesperson to reach out is through a referral.

Again, put yourself in the prospect’s shoes. Would you rather receive an email from someone you never heard of before, or would you rather receive an email from someone that a trusted friend knows and vouches for? It’s a no-brainer.

Here are three email subject lines that draw on the power of referrals. They work like a charm for me, and I’m sure they will for you too:

  • "[Name] from X company told me to talk to you"
  • "Stacy Powell" (Just put the full name of the person in the subject line and nothing else. I promise this works!)
  • "You are connected to Stacy - I sold her [product]"

However, these personalized subject lines only work when the connection between your referral source and prospect is legitimate, and the referral source has authorized you to use their name. Don’t go trolling through a buyer’s LinkedIn network to find an obscure common connection, and then drop this person’s name as if you are all best friends. That will just make your prospect mad -- not to mention your “referral.”  

To get great at referral selling, the #1 thing to do is grow your network. Connect with people you know, people you have worked with in the past, people you work with now, customers, prospects, and anyone else you have a bond with. Then, before you reach out to a new buyer, search them on LinkedIn and see if they’re connected to someone you know. Finally, ask that person two things:

  1. How well they know your potential buyer (if they barely know each other, don’t use them as a referral -- see above)
  2. If you can use them as a referral, or better yet, if they will introduce you to the buyer themselves

Wow, that’s some powerful stuff!

Sales reps: What referral-based subject lines work well for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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Editor's note: Ali Powell is an inbound marketing specialist at HubSpot. Join the Women in Sales Slack channel to connect with like-minded ladies in sales here.

Originally published Apr 19, 2016 6:30:00 AM, updated March 28 2017


Sales Email Subject Lines