The best email subject lines for sales [2022 update]

Posted February 24, 2020

Mark kosoglow headshot

By Mark Kosoglow

VP of Sales at Outreach

First impressions are key. Would you show up to a black-tie event in your favorite Netflix binge-watching sweats? Of course not. Your sales email subject lines are the first impressions you project to your prospects with every email you send. More than one-third of your prospects open your emails based on that alone. Are you putting on your best suit every time you hit send?

We've learned a lot about what works by analyzing the data from tens of thousands of our own emails. Our catchy email subject lines for sales have five key traits in common.

5 Tips for Top-Performing Sales Email Subject Lines

  1. They're short, sweet, and straight to the point.
  2. They're written in a human way - non-formatted, casual subject lines seem more personal.
  3. They're personal — they directly reference the company or the prospect's name.
  4. They include a simple call to action.
  5. They're relevant to the role, title, and persona of who we are reaching out to.

Ultimately, the idea is to avoid, generic, one-size-fits-all messages. Personalization is going to help you stand out in the inbox, leading to positive replies from prospects. And if you want to know just how much it will pay off, youre in luck. We ran a test to find out. Our test consisted of 2,000 emails, with half receiving the subject line, Missing the mark at [company name]? and the other half without the company name. Our results showed a 22% improvement in open rates when personalized. Thats a lot of bang for the buck.

If that advice is not enough to set your sales team in motion, here are the actual top performing email subject lines our team has used. Use these tips along with our sales email tracking solutions, and see your team succeed.

Outreach's Top 5 Sales Email Subject Lines

#1: The Quick Call (Personalized)

What to say:

"Quick call {{weekdays_from_now 2}} Outreach - {{}}"

Results: 75% open rate

Why it works: The Quick Call Subject Line is the subject line equivalent of a SMART Goal (optimized sales reps everywhere are like: "Yaaas SMART Goals!"). For those who don't know, S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. This email subject line is:

Specific: Your prospect knows who you are (replace "Outreach" with your company name), who you're trying to reach (their company name), and what you want (a quick call).

Measurable: You measure the open rate. Moving on.

Attainable: A "quick call" is a very low-barrier-to-entry activity for your prospect, something that won't take more than 10 minutes precious time away from their day and requires no preparation (on their part).

Relevant: Make sure you include their company name (and check it twice!). #personalization

Time-Bound: The "{{weekdays_from_now 2}}" field will automatically populate with a day in the very near future, like Wednesday or Thursday (ooh, fancy). By including a deadline, you give your prospect a sense of urgency.

#2: The Follow Up

What to say:

"Wanted to make sure you got my email"

Results: 66% open rate

Why it works: There are few sales tactics that beat the effectiveness of a quality email follow up. Your prospects are busy, and your first cold email can get lost in The Inbox Ocean, so this subject line is just the thing to remind your prospect that "Oh $#@! I need to respond to that email."

#3: Sales Video & Chill

What to say:

"Building your sales stack (video)"

Results: 59% open rate

Why it works: The meteoric rise of Netflix and Zoom Video Communications stocks just goes to show - we the people of the digital age love videos. This email is essentially an invitation for the recipient to sit back, kick their feet up, and learn about your product without having to do any arduous tasks, like reading.

This subject line is for Outreach Sequences that use the Vidyard video integration. The integration is pretty sweet, you can record or upload and send high-impact, personal video messages to prospects, AND keep track of who's watching what, right from Outreach!

PSA: Please, please don't use the "Building your sales stack (video)" subject line unless you actually include a video with your email. Confusion is not the same as engagement, and the open rate means nothing if you don't get positive responses.

#4: The Virtual Handshake

What to say:

"{{sender.first_name}} from Outreach"

Results: 58% open rate

Why it works: A strong handshake makes a great first impression, and this email subject line extends a bold and assertive virtual handshake to your prospect. It introduces your name and company, and leaves plenty of space for the (equally strong) first sentence of the email to show up in the web browser or mobile preview.

This subject sets the tone for a solid person-to-person relationship between you and your prospect.

#5: The Connect Request

What to say:


Results: 52% open rate

Why it works: Its concise, purposeful, and matter of fact - the call to action is a simple and quick yes or no answer. But it's also ambiguous enough to create a sense of curiosity. Were wired to be curious so much so that the reward centers in our brain light up whenever our curiosity is piqued. This approach makes your recipient want to know more (Connect about what? And why?) and open your email.

The fact that this subject line is only eight characters long means that the first sentence in your email will probably show up in the preview on most mobile apps and email clients. This gives your messaging in that first sentence another chance to make a first impression.

The simple "Connect?" subject line raked in a whopping 71% open rate just last year, and it's still on the leaderboard.

Have you tried any of these cold email subject lines? Did you see success or room for improvement? Let us know in the comments!

If you've already tested the above subject lines you cold email savant, you then here are the top-performing email subject lines from previous iterations of this article for you to try. They're not our top performers anymore but, you never know, they might come back into fashion.

Previous top-performing subject lines

The Statistics

What to say:

6.8 people involved in a decision

Results: 68% open rate

Why it works: People like numbers. Numbers stand out like an island in the sea of text saturating your prospect's inbox. They convey value, and if they have a decimal point they seem more accurate and trustworthy. A hard statistic is built on more than just a sellers personal interpretation.

This particular example also helps to build trust with your potential client because it touches on data that isn't just about the product or service that you're selling. Prospects can find value in quantitative info like this regardless of anything else. When you volunteer helpful information that doesn't relate to your sales pitch, your recipient gets the impression that you have their best interests in mind.

The Humble Ask

What to say:

Any response would be appreciated

Results: 65% open rate

Why it works: Controversial rule of thumb: if it costs them little, most people want to help. We spend all day, every day trying to be of service to the people around us - our employers, our coworkers, our friends, and families. That drive can be habit-forming, and the request for any response conveys the idea that a simple Yes, No, or You should talk to (this person) will suffice.


What to say:

Shameless last attempt

Results: 63% open rate

Why it works: This kind of candor is breaking a pattern. Were wired to have our curiosity piqued by this kind of exception to the rule. This subject line brings up an interesting caveat though - what works in your sales messaging is always a moving target. This 63% figure holds true over the 3 years weve tracked it, but as these breakup messages have become more common they've also become more polarizing. Polarizing can be good, but this is something to keep an eye on. This is something to remember when reading any blog post like this one: what works today might not work in a year.

The Competitor Play

What to say:

Time kills deals - {{! prospects competitor }} knows this

Results: 53% open rate

Why it works: Nothin wrong with a little friendly competition! This subject line implies that your prospects competitors are talking to you and have a deal in the works, and your prospect needs to open this email or get left in the dust.

Technology moves quickly and companies need to constantly upgrade and refresh their tech stacks if they want to keep their edge. Sales moves even quicker, and this email subject line is just direct enough to remind the recipient of that fact.

Not sure which competitor to choose? A quick search on G2 will turn up the top hits, then you can A/B test which company names get the most email opens and positive responses.

The Personal Shout-out

What to say:

"(Name), quick call next Tuesday?"

Boom. Results: Across over 4,800 emails delivered, this subject generated an impressive 34% open rate.

Why it works:

The most read part of any email is the first word of the subject line. When someone reads their name first, it ensures their brain will pay just a bit more attention. Everyone loves to hear their name called out, even if it is just reading something aloud in their own mind.

After grabbing your prospect's attention with their name, they now have a simple call to action that can be answered with one word and very little thought. The day of the week call to action requires no energy to answer. The mind says yes or no immediately because the line from consideration to decision is so short. This easy decision moves the recipient to consider the rest of the email because they have a bias to an answer that the brain will want to validate.

This email works well for busy leaders by empowering them to make a split-second decision of yes or no.

At the end of the day, effective sales engagement depends on the solutions you have at your disposal. When you automate simple tasks like follow-ups while still maintaining the personal connection youve built, you will lose fewer deals by working smarter, not harder. With follow-up sequences and these sales productivity solutions, you can close up to two weeks faster and keep ⅔ of your prospects engaged. What could you accomplish with two extra weeks in the month?

The Open Question

What to say:

"Tech question / (Company) sales process"

Boom. Results: This subject line has a 30% open rate over 4,250 emails delivered.

Why it works:

Everyone wants to share their opinion. Referencing a question that needs to be answered piques the recipients 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. This is the formula used by the single most successful advertising headline in history.

Caution: the first sentence of your email must resolve their curiosity or your reader will lose interest (at best) or get frustrated at you (more likely). No one likes a bait-and-switch! Since we sell into sales organizations, weve increased the level of desire to be an expert by referencing what most sales leaders consider to be their secret sauce: the sales process. Adjust this subject line to reference the secret sauce of your target prospect.

Personally, my curiosity is heightened when I can see a connection between technology and the sales process, but it is not obvious so Ill click through to read more. I want to see what the senders take is.

The Casual Meeting

What to say:

"Time to meet?"

Boom. Results: Emails with this subject were opened an outstanding 42% of the time across more than 600 emails delivered.

Why it works:

Time to meet about what? This subject is just ambiguous enough to make your recipient want to know why you want to meet and open your email. Also, this very short subject line allows more of a message preview on mobile devices and email clients. When your recipient scans their inbox, they'll probably see the first sentence in your email, too. With this approach, the first sentence of your email is just as important as the subject.

The call to action is simple here - a yes or no answer. I sell to sales teams who are used to constant no's. This subject works well for us because while the call to action is simple, our prospects tend to think twice before sending an automatic rejection. This gives us an opportunity to show our value in the message and change the recipient's mind.

Subject 9: #Winning

What to say:

"more wins for (company)"

Boom. Results: This subject line drove a 29% open rate over 570 email deliveries.

Why it works:

The more casual an email looks, the more off the cuff it seems. When someone does something for you in the moment, it creates a feeling of thoughtfulness. This subject line feels hurried, like the writer cant wait to share thing that's prompting them to write this "impromptu" email. This is further supported by the use of lowercase letters. Call it the Texting Millennial approach.

Subject 10: The Magic Combo

What to say:

"new tool / increase in results / (company reference)"

Boom. Results: In over 500 deliveries, emails with this subject were opened 38% of the time.

Why it works:

Everyone is interested in new things and in increased results. It's a simple and obvious hook. The danger is that its too obvious or too overtly salesy. Thats why the last piece is important. By putting in a short reference to a company initiative, news, or product, it adds a layer of personalization that causes the reader to think the sender knows them and wonder what information they have to help.

Personally, this works for me because I know that there are only three ways to increase sales rep performance: give them something better to sell, train them to work harder/better, or give them a tool that helps them work smarter. Even though I have the best product ever to sell (and sell with!) Im always looking for techniques and tools to get better at sales engagement and sales management. Because the increase in results reinforces my own theory on new tools, I have a confirmation bias that drives me to see what's next. Its a powerful cocktail for my brain to continue being reaffirmed in my opinions by opening the rest of the email.

At the end of the day, its important to use your best judgment when figuring out what subject lines will resonate best based on the type of prospect youre emailing and any other context you have. However, these are a great starting point to build your sales engine and drive your SDRs to book more meetings. Nothing replaces the authentic, helpful, engaging copy you write in the body of your cold email, but enticing subject lines certainly can help widen your funnel. Make sure your suit is fresher than Barney Stinson's and your first impression is flawless so you can convert your prospects into a captivated audience.


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