Today’s guest post was written for a sales audience, but many of the ideas hold true for pitching reporters. Enjoy!

By Jill Konrath

If you’re like most sellers, you don’t pay a lot of attention to the subject lines.

They’re an afterthought.

No big deal, right?

Totally wrong.

Your subject line is the most important part of your message.

If it’s not a good one, your email gets trashed in a nanosecond.

In fact, research by ExactTarget (my email newsletter service) show that the average person spends only 2.7 seconds on a message before deciding if they’ll delete it, forward it or read it.

Just 2.7 seconds. That’s all the time you have to capture a readers attention.

That’s why your subject line is so darn critical.

First, let’s talk about what you don’t put in a subject line.

In order to avoid auto-deletes, it’s imperative for you to:

  • Avoid salesy verbiage. Get rid of words like excited, hot new product, free offer, or special pricing.
  • Avoid info on your company. No one is interested in your new product announcements or company updates except you.
  • Avoid capital letters. Just the first word should be capped. Otherwise it seems like a headline, not a personal message.

Now, let’s talk about what works in your prospecting emails.

Here are several options that have proven effective with today’s crazy-busy prospects.

  • Use a referral. If someone has referred you to this person, put that in your subject line. They’ll want to know why. For example, you might write: Terry Jones said to get in touch.
  • Ask a quick question. If your prospect feels it’s simple and relevant, they’ll take a look. Your subject line might read: Quick question re: new client acquisition challenges.
  • Tempt with ideas or information. My prospects are always interested in subject lines like this: Idea to reduce your sales cycle time or How XYZ company increased sales to Fortune 500 companies by 127%.
  • Mention a trigger event. If something is happening within the company or in their greater business environment that’s relevant to your offering, bring that up. For example, if you read about a recent merger, you might write: Impact of XYZ merger on (insert relevant business issue you address.)

Get the picture?

To work, your subject lines must focus on something your prospect cares about.

If you do that, they’ll keep reading.

Here’s a major caveat though.

When they start reading your message, it needs to deliver exactly what you promised in your subject line.

If you move into salesy mode or talk about your company, you’ll trigger your prospect’s auto-delete reaction.

They can’t control it.

And you’ve lost the opportunity to open the conversation.

Hopefully by now you understand just how critical those simple little subject lines are to your sales success. I’d suggest you sit down right now and create 10 new ones you can use in the upcoming weeks.

Finally, start your experiment.

See if you can tell which subject lines are most effective with your prospects.

Then create variations off the same theme.

You’ll immediately see the difference in your sale success.

Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies, helps sellers get more prospects in their pipeline, speed up sales cycles and land bigger contracts. She’s a frequent speaker at sales conferences. For more fresh sales strategies that work with crazy-busy prospects, visit