5 Tips for Email Subject Lines You Haven’t Heard Before

Google ‘best subject lines’ (or substitute a more descriptive adjective—irresistible, engaging, perfect) and you’ll find an endless parade of search results that cover the subject of subject lines. So much so, it’s become cliché to harp on the value of the subject line. So, I kind of hate doing it. But there’s just no escaping the fact that the subject line serves as the gateway to capturing the attention of your audience.

A subject line has one mission: get them to open the email. That one mission is critical, because if the subject line fails, guess what? All that work you did inside the email is completely worthless. There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours crafting the perfect email, only to send it out and get a 5% open rate. Ugh. Gut punch.

One key to getting that open rate up is deliverability—which I have written extensively on. The other, is the subject line.

So, while it may be cliché, we’re going to do it anyway. In this blog post, we’ll explore strategies specifically tailored for B2B companies to create subject lines that compel recipients to open and engage with your emails.

Yet I’m going to try a different tack. Instead of giving you advice you’ve probably heard a million times before (‘the shorter the better!’ or ‘use emojis sparingly’), I’m going to focus on some tips you (hopefully) haven’t heard yet. I want this post to be additive, not duplicative.

So here goes:

1. It’s All About Attention

People are busy—they’re sifting through their email searching for something while on a project deadline, and doing ten million other things that come along with having a job and a life, so they’re not exactly reading every single email with the intent and diligence that you spend writing it.

That’s why the key to great subject lines is grabbing attention.

Whenever you’re writing a subject line, ask yourself: how am I supposed to get busy people to stop what they’re doing and open my email?  Answering that question is the key to creating strong subject lines. There are many different answers—hence many different ways to skin this cat.

The below tips will provide some of the gambits you can use, but each and every one boils down to the core mission of the subject line: grabbing attention.

2. Use a Famous Brand

One of the easiest ways to grab attention is by being familiar. And because we’re emailing business professionals (remember, this is B2B marketing), using a celebrity name or famous consumer good isn’t going to work. Instead, we can use a famous brand.

For example, say you’re a Tech SaaS company, and you have a brand new CRM for growth-stage companies. An attention-grabbing subject line might be:

A CRM that’s easier to use than Salesforce

Salesforce is the king of CRMs, so everyone thinking of purchasing a CRM will at least consider Salesforce. If you’ve ever used Salesforce, you know that the product is unwieldy and overly complex. It can require a lot of technical know-how to make it work right.

So Salesforce isn’t the optimal solution for a lot of companies—especially growth-stage ones. But using Salesforce in your subject line instantly grabs attention. And by stating ‘a CRM that’s easier to use than Salesforce,’ you are targeting the exact problem people have when they use Salesforce. It just isn’t easy to use.

That makes this subject line is likely to grab attention (note—you could also try swapping in adjectives. For example, you could try ‘A more efficient CRM than Salesforce). 

Name recognition is a powerful tool for grabbing attention. People’s eyes will naturally gravitate to what they know—and when they see a famous brand’s name sitting in their inbox, they will absolutely read that subject line (if only to see why the brand is emailing them!) If your subject line uses that brand’s name, and targets the pain point people experience around that brand, you are likely to get a higher open rate than you otherwise would.

3. Use Company Personalization

We all know by now that emails can be personalized, right? Good, I don’t want to have to explain something that basic.Piggy-backing off of the last tip, if you’re going to use a famous brand in your subject line, well…there’s no more famous brand to a person than the company they work for!

For example, my company is ColdStart. So if I get an email that says:

Bookkeeping solution for ColdStart

I am much more likely to open that email (especially around tax season) than I would be if the subject line were simply:

Bookkeeping solution for your company

Or some other variation of the above.

The ‘ColdStart’ name catches my attention. That’s my company! Of course I am going to notice my company name in an email. And remember the #1 rule of subject lines…(see above if you forgot).

4. Nonsensical Urgency

B2B professionals are pressed for time, so crafting subject lines that create a sense of urgency can be highly effective.But what can be even more effective is nonsensical urgency.

What do I mean by that?  Simply that the urgency doesn’t have to make sense. It can just be there—hurrying the reader along.

For example:

Quick note
One last thing—
Did you get this?

All of the above don’t have any context around them. They aren’t trying to make sense. They’re just trying to grab attention.

If I see an email asking me if I got this, I am going to immediately wonder what the this is, and I am going to open that email with a sense of curiosity. That is exactly what you want when emailing B2B prospects. You want them reading your email with curiosity.

What is critical when using nonsensical urgency is that your email must be super-short, 2-3 sentences max. You can’t be viewed as tricking people into your email—if you promise ‘one last thing,’ then you literally have to deliver one last thing.

For example, your email might go something like this:

Subject: One last thing—


Forgot to mention in my last email that ColdStart also creates evergreen content that’s forever useful (that’s in addition to our B2B email marketing campaigns).

All of that is included in our standard package.

Let me know if you’d like to connect on this, happy to explain more.

– Signature

You might include a hyperlink to your Calendly, or maybe even the price of your product (if you’re competing on price). The point is, keep your emails crisp and to the point. This is always true, but especially so when you use the nonsensical urgency technique with your subject line.

BTW—there doesn’t have to be an actual ‘last email.’ This can literally be the first email you send. The person reading it will just assume they missed your previous email (and that actually helps provoke engagement—consider this a 2-for-1 tip!)

5. Use a Reference Point

Did your prospects recently attend an industry conference? Did an industry publication just publish a relevant article?Finding a reference point for your audience is a terrific way to grab your prospects’ attention. For example, let’s say you’re targeting the Health Tech industry, and next week is the Health Tech Summit. You might use a subject line like:

Will I see you at the Health Tech Summit?

I know what you’re thinking—now I have to go to a conference just to send an email??

Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if you’re going or not. Your email can pitch your product or service, and say it would be great to connect at the conference, and even ask to schedule a face-to-face meeting during the event.

You might get a response back that ‘no, sorry not going to the Health Tech Summit, but your product sounds interesting, I’d love to learn more…’ Congratulations, you’ve gained their interest.

Even if you get a response like ‘sure! I’m going to the event. Let’s meet at 3pm in the main lobby.’  You can go ahead and schedule that meeting. Then a day or two later politely email back apologizing you won’t be able to make the conference this year due to unforeseen circumstances, but you’d love to connect by Zoom or Google Meet.

See how easy that is? And it all came from using a reference point in your subject line—something your prospects are sure to recognize.


In the competitive world of B2B email marketing, a well-crafted subject line is your ticket to cutting through the clutter and capturing the attention of busy professionals.

The above tips are just a few of the litany of strategies I’ve collected over the years. They work well and they work often. Because even though marketing changes, human nature never does—and that is ultimately what these subject lines are doing, they are playing on human nature.

Don’t take my word for it. A/B test the above strategies—use a standard subject line and one of the examples above on the same audience in the same campaign, and see what works better. Not every example will work perfectly for every audience, but the above tips have been field-tested numerous times by yours truly, and have worked wonders.

At the end of the day, email deliverability is the most important thing when it comes to sending emails and generating engagement. There is no substitute for strong deliverability. But a crisp subject line is critically important, and can boost open rates (and by extension conversion rates) significantly.

So don’t overlook the subject line—after all, the only way to win their interest is to grab their attention first.