Writing effective cold emails is a challenge because you have no prior relationship to your target audience. Marketers get frustrated with this tactic, because feedback is nearly non-existent and the messages are often lumped together with spam.
Effective cold emails are personalized to a specific individual. Scattershot messages that use a template to increase the efficiency of the process fail because they are transparently disingenuous. In fact, when journalist Shane Snow sent out 1,000 unpersonalized cold emails to executives across the U.S., he received just 12 replies. By ditching the template and taking a more genuine approach to email writing, Snow saw much better results.
Combined with a catchy subject line, personalized cold emails can increase your response rates. Here are 20 subject lines that leverage human psychology and tested marketing strategies to inspire your next campaign:
1. “Let’s talk about [topic/idea]!”
If you’ve done your research, you should know what topics interest your prospect. This subject line should spark some curiosity when it appears at the top of the prospect’s inbox. Everyone enjoys discussing their favorite subjects, which makes this subject line so enticing. Consider playing around with this, using business and personal topics, depending on the tone you want to take.
2. “A [better/smarter/faster] way to [reach a specific goal]”
Everyone wants to be able to achieve their goals faster and more efficiently. The key to this subject line is your understanding of the recipient’s most pressing business pain points. Rather than coming to him or her asking for something, you’re coming to the conversation as a giver – a bringer of solutions. Who wouldn’t want to engage in that conversation?
3. “Can I help you with [reaching a specific goal]?”
This subject line takes a similar approach as the previous one, but with a slightly more submissive tone. Rather than outright offering your services, skills or expertise, you’re asking the recipient if they require your help. To be effective, you should know what challenges with which the prospect is currently struggling. This tactic shows that you understand their situation but does not make any overt assumption about their ability to solve it.
4. “Quick question regarding [project]”
With this prompt, you’re doing two things: You’re placing the recipient in the position of the expert and you’re showing that you value his or her time. When you start with the assumption that the prospect holds the answer to a key question, you make them feel good. People like to be helpful, especially when they can show off some niche expertise.
5. “Hey [name], check this out”
Have you ever heard your name shouted in a room of strangers? You look around expecting to see someone you know, but really there’s just someone else in the room with the same name as you. This is the email subject-line equivalent of that shout. It piques the reader’s interest using a familiar tone and practically begs them to open the email.
6. “[Name], looking forward to seeing you at [event]!”
If you know your prospect will be attending an industry event – perhaps they’re a speaker or brand representative – this prompt will certainly grab their attention. It assumes a certain level of familiarity, but that’s the whole point of networking at events. Showing that you’re going to the event also shows that you likely share the same interests and goals as your prospect.
7. “Where do I even start?”
Start with what? Your target reader will be curious to know what has you so exasperated. Is it a problem they can help you with? There’s only one way to find out – by opening the email. Since this subject line is abstract, you’ll want to make sure the first line of your email is just as eye catching – and much more specific.
8. “Are you prepared to overcome [specific challenge]?”
Once again, this is a subject line that indicates your understanding of the recipient’s challenges. You’ll have to do some research to make an informed guess at what challenges are most pressing to him or her. If you have that information, you’ll be able to spark the prospect’s interest in a potential solution.
9. “[Name], I need your advice”
This is the email equivalent of Princess Leia’s famous plea to Obi Wan Kenobi. Stopping just short of saying the prospect is your only hope, this subject line indicates that you respect the prospect’s expertise on a given subject. But note that it doesn’t specifically call out the topic. That’s intentional. The reader has to open the message to find out what he or she is needed for.
10. “Have you been to [local establishment]?”
This tactic requires some (light) cyber stalking. If you know where the prospect works from, you can search for a highly rated restaurant near his or her office. Then, you can request a meeting with them at this neutral location. If you’re lucky, you’ll land on the prospect’s favorite lunch spot, and it will be that much harder to turn down the invitation.
11. “Request to connect”
In the modern business landscape, networking is everything. When you have the right connections, doors open more easily for you. This subject line plays on the recipient’s desire to expand his or her professional network. Of course, it works best if you actually want to include him or her in your network – this isn’t a good option for a sales email.
12. “Goodbye, [Name]”
Goodbyes are difficult. They can also be confusing, if you don’t quite remember when you met the person in the first place. This subject line triggers a basic human response, prompting the reader to open the email to see just who exactly is saying goodbye. Using the prospect’s first name makes this tactic especially effective.
13. “You missed it”
Millennials call it FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. It is a particularly potent form of ennui, a feeling that you are just not having the types of experiences you should be. This subject line is short and to the point – it tells the reader they missed out on – well, something. The only way to find out what is to open the email and read.
14. “Essential resources to help with [challenge]”
Searching for resources to overcome a business challenge takes time that business professionals may not possess. This subject line indicates that you not only understand that the prospect’s time is precious but also that you’re prepared to help them out. The more specific you can make the challenge, the more likely the prospect is to open the message.
15. “Free to talk at [date]?”
By using a specific date and time, this subject line creates a sense of urgency without being overtly alarming. Prospects are less likely to leave an email unread if they perceive a deadline. You needn’t stick with the time mentioned in your subject, however. You could list a number of available times within the body of the message.
16. “[Name] said we should connect”
For this case, you’ll need the name of one of your prospect’s colleagues – or better yet, the name of his or her superior. It’s best if the person is an actual mutual connection. Using a reference’s name establishes a certain level of trustworthiness from the very beginning. If you share a mutual connection, it shows that you’re someone worth talking to.
17. “Let’s cut to the chase”
This is another subject line that creates a sense of urgency and respect for the prospects time. It’s also short, and doesn’t supply much information. In this case, a lack of context may work in your favor – it shows you don’t want to waste even a millisecond of the prospect’s time. Busy executives can appreciate that.
18. “Have you solved your [challenge] yet?”
Use this subject line when you know for a fact your prospect hasn’t solved the pain point you’re referring to. After all, if you’re shooting in the dark, there’s a good chance the reader will simply say to themselves, “Yep, I have.” And then your email will disappear into the trash folder like the junk mail of old.
19. “You’ll love this article, [name]!”
This prompt works because it attempts to immediately give the reader value. It shows that you understand some part of his or her business and you’re prepared to engage with him or her on a specific topic of discussion. People enjoy sharing articles online, and using that fact could increase your click-through rates.
20. “I am the walrus!”
Sometimes, the best emails don’t need to make any sense at all. A humorous phrase or non sequitur can give the reader pause long enough to consider opening your message. This tactic works best if you can’t find much information about your prospect online. It’s still better to send something, rather than nothing at all.
Successful cold emails combine catchy subject lines with personalized content. Use these examples to inspire your future messages. Good luck!