9 Terrible Sales Email Subject Lines You’ve Probably Used This Week

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost



Imagine you’ve spent 10 years writing the next great novel. Your editor loves it and the earlyreviews are great, but once it’s published, no one buys it. Turns out, your cover sucked.


Unless you’re a writer, this situation might sound pretty unfamiliar. But something similar happens to salespeople on a daily basis. They invest time and energy into crafting the right message or personalizing a template, but their prospect never reads a single word. Why? The email’s subject line was awful.

If you want prospects to actually open your messages, it’s crucial to write an effective email subject line. Below are seven subject lines you should avoid and how to make them better.

9 Terrible Sales Email Subject Lines to Stop Using Today

1. “How can [company name] help you?”

Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. You’re scrolling through your inbox, trying to separate the important messages from the ones you can ignore. When you see this email, are you going to pause so you can ponder all the ways some random company could help you? Probably not.

Try instead: “Are you struggling with [challenge]?”

Naming one of your prospect’s current challenges immediately grabs their attention. Let’s say your subject line is, “Are you struggling with demand forecasting?” Since that issue is actually top-of-mind for the warehouse manager you emailed, she won’t hesitate to click “open.”

2. “Just checking in”

When your prospect doesn’t respond for a while, you might be tempted to send them a message with this subject line. But “checking in,” “touching base,” and “following up” emails are, frankly, the worst. Not only are they completely devoid of value, but they’re the digital equivalent of a fly buzzing in someone’s ear. Don’t be surprised when your prospect swats you away.

Try instead: “Any luck with [goal]?”

This subject line lets you build on your first email without implying the prospect has neglected you. For instance, if you’d previously sent them a PDF on tech recruiting tips, your next email could be titled, “Any luck recruiting engineers?” You’ll put yourself back on their radar while simultaneously adding value.

3. Referral from [mutual connection]

Referrals give you trust, credibility, and influence with prospects before you’ve ever met -- they’re a major advantage. But this subject line (or any other that includes the word “referral”) instantly lessens the impact of an introduction.

That’s because “referral” is a term almost exclusively used by salespeople and marketers. You’ll immediately remind the prospect this is a business interaction, not a normal introduction. Your prospects will see you as the traditional salesperson thinking of their quota, rather than a trusted consultant trying to help them.

Try instead: “[Mutual connection] said we should talk”

This subject line feels more natural. In fact, you’d probably say something similar if you were introducing yourself to a friend of a friend in person. As a result, your prospect is likely to see you in a friendly light.

4. “14 Ways to Drive Recurring Revenue”

It might seem quick and easy to simply copy and paste the title of the PDF, link, or presentation you’re sending into the email’s subject line.

And sure, this approach will save you a couple seconds. On the downside, it’ll also destroy the chance your prospect will open your email.

After all, the average person receives 14 marketing emails per day (and that doesn’t include the newsletters and promotions they actually signed up for). If your email looks like yet another marketing message, they’re almost guaranteed to give it the same treatment -- ignoring it.

Try Instead: “Some ideas on driving recurring revenue”

You want your email to sound like it’s coming from a human, not a robot. With that in mind, write the subject line as though you were discussing the topic with a friend.

5. “Five-second question for you”

If you want your prospects to open your email, use this subject line. Mentioning a question will intrigue them, and promising it’ll be quick will seal the deal.

However, if you want your prospects to respond to your email, opt for a different line. Let’s be real: When’s the last time you ever asked a prospect a question they could answer in five seconds? Probably never. Once people realize responding will take far longer than you’ve promised, they’ll immediately leave. Plus, since you’ve lost credibility, getting them to open the next email will be insanely difficult.

Try instead: “Hi [name], [question]?”

Including your question in the subject line lets the prospect decide upfront how long it’ll take to answer. And they’ll still have a reason to open the message. After all, they’ll be curious to know why you’re asking.

6. “Meeting Request”

To be fair, this subject line doesn’t pull any punches about what the sender wants. But that’s far outweighed by how rude it sounds. Imagine a stranger walked up to you and said, “Give me an hour of your time,” without first explaining why that’ll benefit you. You’d assume they were joking -- or worse, that they have no idea how normal people interact.

You can now see why this subject line fails harder than a belly flop.

Try Instead: “[Prospect's name] -- do you have 10 minutes for a conversation?"

A little respect goes a long way. As HubSpot managing editor Emma Brudner points out, “Putting your ask right in the subject line can set your sales email apart from all the rest.” However, unlike the first subject line, this one asks nicely.

7. “Re: [title of previous email]”

Adding "Re:" to the subject line of the last email you sent the prospect so it looks like you're continuing a conversation, rather than attempting to spark one, isn't just bad karma. It's also an ill-advised way to start the relationship. When the buyer realizes they've been tricked, they'll feel silly -- and to make that feeling go away, they will ignore your email. 

Try instead: "Hoping to help with X"

Positioning yourself as a potential advisor has the opposite effect. Instead of sowing suspicion, you're cultivating trust. Your chances of getting a response will increase dramatically.

8. "Last attempt at contacting you"

You're not a credit card company, and unless you want to increase the likelihood your prospect will send this email straight to trash, think of a different subject line. 

While this is a common shock tactic for reps making a last-ditch effort to grab prospect attention -- it's not generally a successful one. Even if you do get a reply, it will be because you guilted or pushed your prospect into it, and that's not the foundation for a healthy working relationship.

Try instead: "Will persistence pay off?"

When you're sending one last email to a prospect, things tend to be tense. Your prospect is likely dreading another email from you. You're stressed, because you know this is your last chance. So, why not lighten things up with a subject line that pokes fun at your persistence?

9. "[Benefit] with [Product name]"

"This generic thing? I've been using it for years!" That should be the subtext of this subject line. This is generic, doesn't speak to your prospect's unique needs, and is easy to pass over in an inbox. 

Try instead: "[Pain point] ... does this sound familiar?"

Grab their attention with real-life pain points they feel on a daily basis. A subject line like, "Price hikes and poor service ... sound familiar?" jumps out at your prospect and grabs their attention. If you've done your homework, you know they're experiencing this, and need a solution now. 

Choosing a good subject line can feel like a disproportional amount of work for just 40 to 70 characters. But put in the time to avoid a tired and overused subject line -- you’ll be rewarded by a higher open rate and thus, more responses.

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