by Jeff Molander, Conversation Enablement Coach, Speaker & Founder at Communications Edge Inc

Why aren’t your email or InMail subject lines working? They’re probably too long, too specific and following conventional guidelines. For example, trying to catch attention or being specific. After months of studying financial advisor email subject lines and messages here are surprising insights.

Bottom line: Subject lines provoking the most response provoke curiosity.

This breaks from conventional thinking.

In the end, there's a difference between sales outreach writing and marketing copywriting. Learning the difference often puts us on a better track -- to engaging more clients in conversation.

Why are email subject lines so important?

When sending emails, the first thing a recipient sees are subject lines and sender name. Nearly 60 percent of the decision to open is made based on these two elements (source: Litmus-Fluent survey).

cold email first impression

Hence, subject lines serve as your first impression -- which is crucial as it pertains to cold outreach. 

Because no matter how elegant or curiosity driven your email body is, it won't matter if your emails or LinkedIn messages (or InMails) aren't being opened. 

Hence, the key is to create subject lines which spark curiosity and drive prospects to open your outreach messages.

Avoid being catchy or compelling

Most believe catchy, compelling email subject lines will get emails opened and engage clients.

Truth is, they won't.

Both catchy and compelling fail terribly in sales outreach messages.

Hence, they don't work in sales. Marketing? Maybe, if it's original. But it rarely is and almost never works in sales emails.

Because prospects have become accustomed to seeing the same patterns that PUSH.

They know catchy/compelling subject lines are usually followed by a sales pitch.

Thus, your cold outreach attempts catch more cobwebs than the corners of your ceilings. 

Even more, avoid using “RE:” or any of that kiddie stuff in your subject lines. This is an old, ineffective trick used to stand out. Doesn't work much anymore. Clients have been burned too often by people trying to trick them into believing the message is part of an on-going conversation.

Avoid creating "openers remorse." Instead, spark curiosity.

Avoid clarity in subject lines

Conventional subject line tactics create opens and response less-and-less. Example: You've probably heard how "effective email subject lines are direct, straight to the point and crystal clear."

However, this conventional belief will sabotage your campaign.

Because cold email arrives without context, clients have not opted-in to receive it. The more specific your subject is about what's inside (and your goal) the lower open and response rate.

Think about it. From your client's perspective, they don't need to open when the subject indicates, "this is a cold email from another financial advisor."

They delete, without hesitation. Clarity is the enemy. Instead, lean toward the direction of a new friend: nominal confusion.

Avoid offers to help 

You may be tempted to write like a marketer or "add value." This is the most common outreach copywriting mistake among financial advisors. Beware!

Cold email arrives without context. Prospects have not opted-in to receive it.

This, marketing copy does sounds appealing. However, the goal of marketing is to inform, persuade and educate... which is problematic. Here's an example.

“[Name], here's how you can save enough for retirement in 3 simple steps ”

However, sales copywriting sparks curiosity, avoids persuasion. Because customers are bombarded by advisors seeking yesses it's often better to seek nos. That's unconventional!

Hence, we found better results when advisors avoided marketing copywriting our outreach messages. 

Even more, offering tips, shortcuts and making clear attempts to help often backfires. These types of messages suggest spam because clients have no established relationship with you yet.

Helpful messages can create distrust 

"Hi, Jeff, I hope you are doing well. I'm a financial advisor looking to help people. Maybe I can help you with something that is unrelated to my career? Maybe we could help each other?"

The problem with such offers is simple: Clients know why you're offering to help. Denying it doesn't help. Regardless of your intent, based on their experience, clients see offers to help as an insincere ploy.

Because most of the time they are!

Also, attempting to help -- without permission -- is a dead give away. Clients tend to see your offer to help as having a selfish ulterior motive.

To sell.

Remember: The more specific your subject is about message contents (and your goal) the lower open and response rate.

Instead, your subject line should create curiosity, intrigue. It should provoke.

Avoid creating urgency

Creating Urgency in Sales Messages

Many sales "gurus" and marketers tell us to tug at our prospects' fear of missing out (FOMO). 

"You only have one day left to save your..."

This is terrible advice -- spawned from marketing copywriting.

Because clients are accustomed to seeing these sleazy sales patterns. They have become conditioned to knowing -- a sales pitch will follow. Hence, they mark as spam or delete.

The best subject line criteria

Our financial advisor members use unconventional subject line writing tactics. So far, it's helping increase open and response rates.

They are using:

  • Less than 4 words (“sweet spot” is 2)
  • Lower-case first letter
  • Trigger words to create constructive tension, creating a desire to relieve it (open)

They are avoiding:

  • Yes/no questions
  • Asking for meetings
  • Communicating intent or hinting what's inside the message

Create tension

Yes, tension.

Constructive tension creates curiosity.

The job of your subject line is to spark curiosity about what’s inside the message. Nothing more.

Avoid the temptation to focus on clients' typical pain points or fears. If you do, you’ll blend in with the pack. EVERYONE is doing this. Trust me. Avoid it.

Don’t be cute. This always causes trouble. 

Be careful about using first names in subject lines. This is often a signal of “fake personalization.” Some buyers are VERY savvy to mail merged spam!

Make your subject line:

  • Familiar, yet also vague (don’t be overtly specific)
  • Provocative … a little bit weird … yet credible 

Want to see examples? Join us in our next copywriting workshop

Beware of Uncle Google & LinkedIn

Inventing effective subject lines is not as easy as swiping from LinkedIn experts... or Googling the latest “secret formulas.” Advice from marketing firms and/or software companies is also to be avoided.

Instead, constantly experiment... and consider breaking from conventional subject line tactics. Trust me, you'll start creating more client conversations if you do.

Join a community of inventive advisors

It also becomes easier when you tap into “what's working” inside a community of financial advisors -- who are all seeking better conversation-starting tactics.

You know, those which have not been discovered by the masses yet!

"I think provoking curiosity is spot on," says advisor Bryan Trugman of Attitude Financial. That's what led me to joining the Academy."

Bryan told me, "I was convinced there was a better way than what I was currently doing, and I wanted to improve. I was ready to change."

"My father Jeffrey Trugman, ChFC®, CFP® , also a financial advisor, told me early on, clients will act when THEY are ready. What makes them ready? I believe it's many things-many of which have nothing to do with us. So, keeping the door open, provoking curiosity, leads to a conversation, and eventually a client."

Where do you turn for subject line formulation, experimentation and best practices?

Why aren't you part of our group of insiders yet? Start finding out what actually works with cold and follow-up email subject lines.


About the Author

Jeff Molander is the authority on starting conversations with busy people. As founder of Communications Edge Inc. he teaches a proven, effective technique to spark buyers curiosity in sales outreach & marketing messages. He's an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded the Google Affiliate Network and what is today the Performics division of Publicis Groupe. Jeff served as adjunct digital marketing faculty at Loyola University’s school of business. His book, Off The Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You, is first to offer businesses a clear, practical way to create leads and sales with technology platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs.

Jeff Molander

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