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7 Battle Tested Cold Sales Email Subject Lines (And Why They Work)

Sujan Patel

January 30th, 2018

cold email subject line examples for sales

If you’re a sales development rep or an account executive, this is for you. I’m going to breakdown 7 cold email subject lines, and explain why they work for sales professionals.

By this point, you already know how important your cold sales email subject line is. Kevin George of Email Monks calls it “the biggest factor influencing email open rates,” while data gathered by Anum Hussain for HubSpot reveals that “33% of email recipients open email based on subject line alone.”


Of course, knowing how important subject lines are is one thing. Actually deploying them in a way that’s both appropriate for your audience and effective is another thing entirely.

To cut time off your learning curve, here are seven cold email subject line templates you can adopt for your own messages.

#1. The Question

What It Is: A subject line that poses a leading question intended to get prospects to click.

Why It Works: According to Mark Kosoglow:

“Everyone wants to share their opinion. Referencing a question that needs to be answered piques the recipient’s curiosity. They’re more likely to open the email so they can figure out if they can show off their expertise in answering your question.”

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when crafting a question-based subject line:

1) This impact can be capitalized on by subject lines that either pose a direct question or that insinuate one will be asked of the prospect upon opening.

2) The question you ask needs to be open-ended. Questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” don’t trigger the same desire prospects have to show off their knowledge.

3) As Kosoglow notes, you need to resolve the uncertainty created by the question early on in your message’s opening line or body copy. Curious prospects will quickly grow tired of being kept waiting.

Get these elements right, though, and you could see the same impact as Kosoglow did: a 30% open rate over 4,250 emails delivered on a single campaign.

See It In Action:

  • “Tech question for [prospect]”
  • “Are you making these mistakes?”
  • “Can you help me out?”

#2. The Call Out

What It Is: A subject line that includes the recipient’s name, title or other personal information (often added through the use of a merge field).

Why It Works: Invesp’s Khalid Saleh shares data suggesting that “emails with personalized subject lines are 22% more likely to be opened.”

The reason personal call outs work is a no-brainer: we’re all wired to look out for ourselves. Messages that appear to be tailored specifically to our needs are more likely to catch our attention than generic-sounding copy.

See It In Action:

  • “[First name], what would you do with an extra $1,000?”
  • “Check it out, [first name]”
  • “Special savings for [first name]”

#3. The Shorty

What It Is: A short subject line, typically no more than three words

Why It Works: Short subject lines respect your recipients’ time, and they create a more casual, conversational feel than longer subjects (which may read more like slick copy writing).

Videofruit’s Bryan Harris is a fan, stating:

“I try to keep my subject lines under four words when I’m writing to an individual. One, because this is way quicker to write and it seems more conversational when I’m talking to them.”

See It In Action:

  • Hey
  • “You ready?”
  • “My biggest mistake”

#4. The Connection

What It Is: A subject line that suggests a connection between the sender and recipient.

Why It Works: People are far more motivated to help others when they feel uniquely qualified to do so. Subject lines that indicate a shared connection also overcome the initial distrust most people have of sales emails by removing all or part of the “unknown” aspect of cold messages.

Connection (real or perceived) can take a number of different forms:

  • A referral from a mutual connection (or just the suggestion that a mutual connection is shared)
  • A reference to common participation in a recent event
  • A reference to common participation in online communities, readership of industry blogs or other social conversations

See It In Action:

  • “Mutual connection with [name of connection]”
  • “Did you enjoy [recent event]?”
  • “Just saw your comment on [industry blog]”

As a note, the power of connection is easily abused. Use it as a starting point for a new conversation, rather than attempting to double down on one that’s tenuous at best.

#5. The Benefit Proposition

What It Is: An email subject line that offers a clear and compelling benefit to the recipient.

Why It Works: Benefit proposition subject lines take advantage of humans’ natural tendency to ask “What’s in it for me?” You can observe this force on your own by looking at the cold emails that capture your attention the fastest. Are you more likely to click on generic copy or on the messages with subject lines that speak directly to one of your pain points?

See It In Action: The following subject line examples come courtesy of HubSpot’s Emma Brudner:

  • “A new HR strategy for Business Inc.”
  • “A savings of $25k for ABC Corp.”
  • “An all-time revenue record for Organization XYZ”

#6. The Congrats

What It Is: A subject line that offers congratulations on a recent accomplishment of the recipient.

Why It Works: Who doesn’t love being flattered?

Using congratulations in your subject lines – as in the examples below – requires a bit more digging, as you’ll need to stay up-to-date on your top leads’ activities. For this reason, this subject format is especially valuable as a subject line for follow-up emails. Even if you’ve begun the conversation using one of the other formats here, you can keep the conversation warm by reaching out whenever you come across news about your prospects.

See It In Action:

  • “Congrats on the big news”
  • “Congratulations on your book deal”
  • “Congrats – just saw you featured on [top website in your industry]”

#7. The Meeting Request

What It Is: A subject line that asks directly for a future meeting.

Why It Works: Some people appreciate directness. If you’re eventually going to ask recipients for a meeting, why not come out and say it in your subject line?

Disclaimer: This only works if it’s SUPER relevant, well researched, and doesn’t feel like spam.

Additionally, meeting-based subject lines can be useful after a meeting has occurred, as you’ll be able to leverage the connection you’ve created to drive follow-up opens.

See It In Action:

  • “[Recipient_Name]: Do you have 5 minutes?”
  • “Meeting request: [your name] + [recipient’s name]”
  • “Following up on our meeting”

Creating Great Subject Lines = Better Cold Emails

As you can see from the structures above, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” recipe for successful subject lines. Some of the samples I’ve shared won’t make sense for your business, while you may notice that others combine several of these elements together into a single template.

Use these structures as a starting point, but remember that the best results come from testing. Work to continually improve your performance by iterating as you go if you’re serious about cold email success.

What’s your favorite cold email subject line? Leave me a note with your suggestions below!


Also published on Medium.

About the author

Sujan Patel

Sujan is the co-founder of Mailshake. He is a marketer and entrepreneur with over 14 years of marketing experience. Sujan has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Sales Force, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.

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