The road to success is paved with iterations.

A/B tests are a good starting point for objective subject line evaluation. Every sales team should be using them. However, figuring out why various subject lines are effective is more of an art than a science. It takes educated guesswork and multiple rounds of iterations — more than just an A or a B — to get the results you want.

Testing is a science. Iteration is an art.

The following subject lines were used by a LeadGenius Sales Executive in successive rounds of targeted cold prospecting campaigns. By evaluating the positives and negatives of each subject line variation, our sales rep was able to increase his cold email open rate by 49% in 5 steps.

1. “Your sales process”

Performance: 37.5% opened

SubjectLine Example

The Positive:

Putting the focus on your reader typically yields positive results. Starting off with “your” can be a good way to frame an email because it demonstrates relevance.

Targeting is obviously a primary factor in the open rate equation. Assuming your email is properly targeted, relevance alone is sometimes enough to draw the reader in.

A great deal of the B2B sales and marketing messaging out there is dreadfully uninspired. In a sea of generics (“Weekly Newsletter,” “Value Matters,” and “Don’t Miss Out”), just a shade of relevance can be a welcome sight in the inbox.

This email campaign was sent to a list of around 300 individuals targeted by industry, company, annual sales revenue, job title, and CRM type. If your cold prospecting email is going out to a list of more than 300 people, more likely than not, you could be doing a better job with your segmentation.

Notice the deliberate use of capitalization and punctuation. The tone of “Your sales process” is a bit more familiar than “Your Sales Process.” This might seem like a minor adjustment, but details matter.

Appearing professional is important. It goes without saying that you should avoid shouting capitals, wacky punctuation, and excessive exclamation points, however, many salespeople make the mistake of dehumanizing their emails in the name of professionalism.

In a world where sales and marketing emails are increasingly automated, it’s always good to remind the prospect that there is a human on the other end of the line.

The Negative:

The downside of this subject line is that it is too vague. The recipient has no idea what they are opening. This 3-word subject briefly grabs the attention of the reader, but ultimately offers no value or personalization. What’s in it for them?

Getting the reader’s attention is only the first step. This email stood out enough to pique a few readers’ interests, but ultimately fell short of enticing the majority to open it.

2. “Sample leads for {{company}}”

Performance: 50.6% opened

Email Open rate

The Positive:

Emails with personalized subject lines have 26% higher unique open rates than emails with generic subjects, yet 70% of marketers are still not sending personalized emails.

When possible, personalize.

The email client being used for these particular campaigns is QuickMail, a simple stand-alone tool built for automated email prospecting.

This subject line is also effective because it offers value. LeadGenius’ prospecting emails only got out to individuals who are specifically tasked with organizing teams tasked with lead generation, not just any old businessman — people whose job titles are Director of Sales, Sales Manager, VP of Sales for the Americas, Director of Demand Generation, and so on.

Admittedly, “sample” sounds a bit salesy, but it’s honest. This is a sales email. There is no use hiding it.

Being coy with your subject lines might get you a few extra opens in the short term, but if you grossly under-deliver with your content, you are daring the recipient to hit the SPAM button.

Most email clients take spam reports seriously. Getting a spam complaint is not only a lost lead, it also negatively impacts the deliverability of future email campaigns.

If you promise “75% Off Your Next Purchase” in the subject line, and the body of your email amounts to “just kidding,” you’re not starting your sales cycle off on the right foot. You doing the exact opposite of what an initial prospecting email should be doing: building trust.

The Negative:

There is always some grey area when it comes to delivering on your promise. The body of this email does not actually contain a signed and sealed list of targeted leads. It tells the reader how LeadGenius is willing to provide them with a small list of targeted sample leads for free. It’s difficult to craft a subject that does not walk the line.

Offer value without overpromising. If your prospects are all disappointed with the body of your email, you will be disappointed with your SQL conversion rate down the road.

3. “Potential leads for {{company}}”

Performance: 61.1% opened

potential leads company

The Positive:

Here again, personalization leads to a very respectable open rate.

Compared to the previous email, this subject line is less likely to be read as unreasonable or dishonest. The subject offers value, yet seems realistic.

The most cliché spam subject lines inevitably contain some sort of ridiculous over-promise:

Your Online Doctorate In 6-Weeks

Be Irresistible To Women With This One Weird Trick

Survive the Recession, Earn $5000 a week from home

Register to Win Your FREE iPad!!

Extreme examples like these condition us all to be skeptical of over promises. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Having a realistic value proposition in your subject line will increase your open rate. You also set yourself up for success when you offer something you can deliver on quickly.

The inclusion of dynamic fields in your subject lines can also help decrease bounce rate. Email clients scan for large batches of incoming messages with the same subject line. By adding a personalized field, you cut down on the likelihood that a server will identify your message as overtly promotional. This is particularly relevant if you are sending to a large list.

The Negative:

This subject line is “personalized,” but not “individualized.”

Company Name can be a useful dynamic field to include with a subject line, but it does not connect on a 1:1 level. This subject line will not be effective when used on a company that has tens of thousands of employees like AT&T, Home Depot, Xerox, or FedEx.

Know your market. The effectiveness of this particular subject line is likely to be inversely proportional to the size of the companies you are targeting.

4. “Found you on LinkedIn”

Performance: 64.6% opened

Found You On LinkedIn subject line

Professionals like and use LinkedIn.

35% of users access LinkedIn daily and 32% access the site a few times per week. LinkedIn is now responsible for a staggering 64 %of all visits from social media channels to corporate websites. In contrast, Facebook accounts for 17% of such visits, while Twitter is just 14%.

This subject line makes some recipients curious without screaming “click bait.” It demonstrates that the sender did at least some homework before barging into your work day.

The reference of a LinkedIn connection in the subject line makes a tacit promise to the reader that the shared connection will be revealed upon opening the email. Be sure to include the name of the connection in the message body.

Furthermore, 28 to 39 characters have been shown to have the highest open and click-through rates for B2B emails. This subject length falls right in the sweet spot. Never sacrifice clarity for characters, but if you can, aim for 4-6 words.

The Negative:

The broad success of this subject line across a variety of industries all but guarantees its overuse in the coming months. I’ve seen several variations of this subject line in my own inbox since the start of 2015.

Adding the name of the connection in the body of the email also requires some extra leg work. Executing at scale requires deliberate list building.

The high open rate of this campaign also suggests that LeadGenius’ emails were not getting filtered out of recipients’ primary inboxes. However, be aware that using a social network’s name in your subject line could potentially send you to the social tab of inboxes powered by Google.

Gmail Email Social Tab

5. “I found you through {{contact_first_name}} {{contact_last_name}}”

Performance: 86.6% opened

Email Subject line open LinkedIn

The Positive:

An 86% cold email open rate is outstanding by any measure.

This subject line works well because it lends automatic credibility to the sender by leveraging an existing connection by name. An unexpected but familiar name jumps off the page. It is attention grabbing. It piques the reader’s curiosity. The sender obviously put in some extra effort to locate and document this connection.

Setting up this type of email is actually more than a subject line technique, it’s an entire prospecting strategy.

Download Reverse LinkedIn Prospecting (PDF) here.

The Negative:

Constructing this campaign is complicated.

It requires searching through hundreds, if not thousands, of LinkedIn connections. That’s a lot of data entry.

This type of campaign can be very effective, but it is very difficult to scale – even for companies with lots of resources.

At LeadGenius, we are able to efficiently run these types of campaigns by using our own services. We combine customizable data, machine intelligence, and a remote human workforce to execute at scale.

If you are interested in running a similar prospecting and email outreach campaign at your company, schedule 15 minutes with one of our live representatives to discuss volume options and pricing.

According to Radicati, the typical business professional receives an average of 81 emails every day.

Email is still the preferred communication channel of professionals, but grabbing decision makers’ attention is an increasingly difficult task. That is, of course, assuming you have already identified who the decision makers are in your industry.

Though the focus of this post is on Open Rate, go back and review how Clicks and Replies increased with each iteration as well.

Increased efficiency at the top of the funnel smooths out every step to follow.

Want highly targeted leads for your outbound campaigns? LeadGenius can help. Learn more here.