As a Product Manager for a SAAS provider, I get a lot of B2B marketing emails. I’ll be honest — I delete most of them. Heck, I didn’t even opt into receiving many of them. The irony that an email marketing product manager is getting spammed is not lost on me.

But every now and then, a great B2B subject line grabs my attention. And if I’m lucky, a horrible subject line will show up right after it, helping me appreciate the good one even more. That happened this morning.

Here’s a look at my inbox in its standard view:

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 10.28.11 AM

Right away, two things jump out to me:

  1. Vidyard’s subject line is good. It’s short and engaging. A good subject line is always both of these things, and that rule of thumb is doubly true for B2B marketers — you’re not just competing for your recipients’ time; you’re competing against priority, budget, immediacy, company interest, and myriad other factors that aren’t even in your radar when you click Send on your campaign. What you can control is the length and tone of your subject line, and it should always be short and engaging.
  2. Qlik’s subject line is long. The screenshot above tells you there’s more to this subject line than Outlook is willing to show me. While it’s true my inbox pane is vertical and probably narrower than most, I’ve allowed Qlik 48 characters including spaces to engage me. But Qlik chose to waste 20 of those characters giving their subject line a subject. The lead-in phrase, “Webinar Invitation:” is wasted space.

Let’s take a look at Qlik’s full subject line:

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 10.27.11 AM

Now, that’s a long subject line even without the wasted lead-in, but it’s not horrible. In fact, the question-as-subject-line approach is solid. It’s just too long. How about any of these:

  • Would your application benefit from better reporting?
  • Is your application delivering the best analytics?
  • Can dashboards help your application performance?

Any of those subject lines would’ve been a great attempt at getting me to open your email. Moreover, Qlik’s weak subject-line game does a disservice to their email, which is really good. In fact, its header — “Embedding Analytics in Your Application” — would make a great subject line. Posting it as a question (“Would you benefit from embedded application analytics?”) would make it even more engaging. I’d totally open that email and register for that webinar.

What are some good and bad B2B subject lines you get in your inbox? Post them in the comments.

About the Author: Harry Kaplowitz is the Product Manager for iContact, an email and social marketing service of Vocus, a provider of cloud-based marketing and PR software. You can follow him on Twitter (@Inboxygen), or visit inboxygen.com.