How To Drastically Improve Cold Email Open Rates

Are your emails open-worthy?

How many emails do you get each day? How many of them do you actually open?

With all the emails that you get, it’s just close to impossible to open each one. With a ton of websites and services sending messages to your inbox, it’s become a chore to actually sift through the pile and pull out the useful ones.

See: In someone else’s inbox, you’re part of the flooders.

This is the truth for many salespeople. You’re a stranger in their house.

It’s no secret that email is one of the most effective tools in sales. It’s not as proactive as calling—but for some situations, it can even be better than actually picking up the phone.

Did you know that 91 percent of US consumers use email? And according to Salesforce’s 2015 State of B2B Marketing, emails are still core to B2B sales and marketing.

Now, I know there’s a ton of information out there, even on this blog, about what to write in your prospecting emails.

But what good are your emails if they don’t get opened at all?

Are you getting the open rates you want? Are you hitting the numbers you need?

Anything around 25 percent is a good rate. Over that is great. Steli Efti of says 30 percent or higher is a great open rate.

How do you get closer to these numbers? Is there anything you can do on your next batch of emails.


In this post, we will focus on how to do that.

How do you improve cold email open rates?

Again, we will not be focusing on the email body for this post.

This post is all about how to get your emails opened.

Assuming your messages don’t get caught in the spam filter (or get to the promotions tab on gmail), these are the three things you have to focus on when improving your open rates:

1. Subject lines 
2. Timing
3. Email preview text

Next to your name and email address, subject lines are obviously the first thing that pulls in the prospect’s attention so it’s very important that you put effort into figuring out which subject lines work.

Companies like Kissmetrics explore the idea that there’s optimal timing when sending emails. And yes, there really could be. We’ll get into this more later.

Email preview text is really an extension of your subject line. For people who are wary of actually clicking on emails, these serve as your intro and a crucial part of your hook (subject line+preview).

That’s the overview. Let’s dive deep into these three components and I’ll share tips and tricks to nail that open rate you so desire. Enjoy the appointments.

So let’s get busy.

How to Write Subject Lines That Make People Open Emails

It’s just a single line but it’s arguably the component that matters most when cold emailing.

Subject lines.

See, you’re sending a message to a person you don’t really know well. This makes the subject line all the more important. You have to make it short and clear.

There’s actually one huge reason why.

You know what it is?

People access their emails on their mobile phones. 

When people check emails on mobile, they tend to make quicker decisions and just speed past emails that didn’t catch their attention.

Now, the success of your emails relies heavily on whether you’re able to capture someone’s attention—and you have as few as 20 characters to do so.

This is a challenge of brevity, of conciseness.

Admit it or not, the subject line is very powerful because people delete emails even before opening them.

It’s best to craft subject lines with the assumption that they will be opened on a phone. And that’s the first and most important point. Learn to write short but impactful subject lines.

Oh, and of course, use their name in the subject line, if it isn’t awkward and if you can.

Ready to get to the meat of things?

If you’ve been sending emails with a dry subject line, here are some ideas and tips you can try:

1. Shorter is better.

Use the age-old copywriting technique of writing down the summary of your email in a sentence, then try to rewrite it with fewer words. Repeat the cycle until it’s impossible to go fewer.

This way, you still have the gist in there but it’s more of straight, piercing arrow.

2. Drop the sales tone.

Spammy titles. ALL CAPS. BUY NOW!!!!

Don’t do it.

3. Involve them early by asking questions.

The key to this tip is to ask a question that you know the prospect is known for or is good at. This approach to subject lines is one part ego-bait, one part good research. Actually, if you do good research and find an area that the prospect is good at and is relevant to the (hopefully) ensuing conversation, this subject line technique might just work for you.

4. Tell them what you want them to do.

This is a call-to-action type subject line. Are you sending them a downloadable? Is it a whitepaper or a market report about their industry? Be direct.

An example would be something like “Roger, read this whitepaper on hotel management I put together for you.”

5. Use a standard Introduction “<>” subject line.

Introductions are exciting. Even on email. When this type of subject line is used for what it’s originally meant for, it connotes a potential professional relationship.

Well, arguably this is what’s in store for the prospect even when the email is from a salesperson. Right? Use with caution as this may burn prospects. Be sure to bring phenomenal value inside the email.

Introduction: [Your Name] <> [Prospect’s Name]

6. Put your best benefit on blast.

Why not use the classic technique of putting your benefit-foot in the door before anything else?

Okay, so you’ve qualified this lead and you’re sure they can save or get big bucks by signing on to your product. Be bold and confident about it. If by your calculations they can double revenue in three years through your product then say that.

[Product] will double [Prospect’s Company]’s revenue in three years

7. [Their Company] + [Your Company]

This one’s from Nick Persico. It’s similar to the introduction subject line, but more straightforward. You’re already stating a partnership and you just want to get on a call to get things started.

and now, the “Proceed with Caution” subject lines…

8. This email is ice cold but you need to hear me out

Risky! But it just might work. Since subject lines and open rates are all about getting your prospect’s attention, this one has the potential to work wonders for you. Be cautious, though! I wouldn’t use it on an executive who’s known for being formal and serious.

9. No subject line

According to email tracker Sidekick, blank subject lines actually get 8 percent more opens that those with text.

10. Unrelated clickbait

I can haz your attention. Proceed with intense caution and make sure you use something funny—or you have a plan to redeem yourself!

Craft subject lines from these tips and start testing which ones work for you.

When To Send Emails So They Don’t Get Buried

The answer to this is: it depends.

If you’ve run cold email campaigns before and you’re very familiar with the industry you’re working in, you can at least get an idea of best practices when it comes to timing cold emails.

Is it better to send emails early in the morning? Or does lunch break give your emails a better chance of being seen?

If you’re using email tracking software like Yesware and Sidekick, you have access to good data. Plot the emails out and identify which hours work for your prospects.

Now, send cold emails, preferably segmented into job titles and predicted optimal time to send emails, in groups of 20-30.

Emails unopened within 3 hours are very unlikely to be opened. People are busy but they do check emails.

CEOs and C-suite in general spend around 4 hours and 40 minutes a day checking emails.

Take note of the times, adjust and resend to a new set of leads.

Of course, you’ll want to adjust your follow-up sequence according to your findings.

Marketing analytics company Kissmetrics put together a study on social timing that explores email opening habits. Here are some of the findings:

✉ On the average, click and open rates are highest during early mornings (6am-9am)

✉ Emails sent between 10pm and 6am are ineffective. They call this the dead zone.

✉ People are unlikely to open work emails during lunch. They spend this time on magazines and social media.

This is really reliant on the data you’ll get but being diligent on watching your prospects’ behavior will save you a lot of time and get you more appointments.

How To Improve Open Rates By Optimizing Email Preview Text

Optimize your emails further by tweaking, working on and testing email preview texts.

You have limited time to convince your prospects to open your emails and you need all the help you can get.

After subject lines, what else can you, right?

Email preview text space is limited but it provides a valuable opportunity to pull in your target. As much effort as you put on subject lines, a bad preview text can make or break your email open rates.

Here’s what you should avoid:

✉ Don’t put administrative text like social media engagement invitations on this precious email real estate.

✉ Better not put your unsubscribe text up top your email and let it show as your preview text.

✉ Don’t go straight to the sell.

Here’s what you should do:

✉ Tweak the preview text. You have a choice between using the first few words of your email body as preview text and you can also create a dedicated preview that’s hidden inside the email. Litmus, an email optimization company, wrote up a guide to customizing your preview text.

✉ Personalize your preview text. It can be so much work but it will pay off. Personalization will help you connect better with your prospects and increase the chances of your emails getting opened.

✉ Optimize your preview texts considering the character limits of various devices. Here’s a guide from Litmus:

email preview text


Always Be Closing and Always Be Testing

Emails are a crucial part of the sales process and classic sales principles apply to it. Add value to your prospects’ lives, do research so you could tailor-fit your pitches and all communications, and most importantly, always be closing.

What’s great about emails is that all its components are documented within software and email clients. Use this data to improve your email campaigns. A/B test subject lines, preview texts and timing until you get a good feel of what works and what doesn’t.

Testing helps but there has to be an understanding that there’s not one thing that applies to all. It’s crucial to segment your leads well so you get the most out of your cold emails.

In future posts, we will discuss more cold emailing techniques, so stay tuned!


We also like this helpful resource: 26 Cold Email Templates & Resources which Guarantee To Get A Response


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Aki Merced

Aki Merced

Aki Merced writes about B2B sales and marketing as a content marketer for Tenfold. Follow her on Twitter @akimerced!