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Navigating Email: From Spam Wars to Trusted Relationships

Some call it spam. Others call it marketing. Recipients want it to stop, while senders are looking to perfect their “art.” But both sides agree on one thing: Email communication is still broken in 2024.

laptop showing an email inbox full of unread messages
Adobe Stock/koldunova
Where next with email communications?

As I write this blog in June 2024, many government professionals, contractors, suppliers and even home users continue to complain that their inboxes are overflowing and/or out of control. In extreme cases, I have seen friends and colleagues delete their entire email accounts and start over with a new one. Others use various tools and tricks to find the important items.

Questions abound related to this email topic, such as:
  • Should I open that email or delete it?
  • Should I click on that "recommend" link in the email? (Answer: No!)
  • Why didn’t our spam tool stop this?
  • Is this person or company even reputable? Do they exist (or could it be a generative artificial intelligence fake persona)?  
  • Why do I still get so many unwanted emails from the same person?
  • Will they ever give up? (And why aren’t my filters working?)

And even when you follow the instructions contained in emails, frustrations do not end but often grow. For example, the “quick 15-minute meeting” they ask for inevitably leads to more meetings.

Or, when you answer an email to provide one of the three options given as to why you have not responded to the other four emails they sent in the past month, they don’t leave you alone. Rather, you feel as if you are almost the victim of online stalking as this person starts to send social media and/or phone messages.

As a technology professional who has worked for federal and state governments, as well as several different private-sector companies over three-plus decades, I can tell you that the problem is bad everywhere and generally speaking, the “grass is not greener” on the other side of the fence. What I mean by that is that private-sector employees are seeing just as many emails as public-sector employees.

Early last week I posted this question on LinkedIn: What do you hate about sales emails?

Here are 10 of my favorite replies (you can read all of them at the link):

Todd Hammond: “Plenty of real work flowing into my email inbox with day-to-day business. Unsolicited sales emails get the same treatment across the board: Junk ~> Delete ~> Block Sender.”

Michael Brown: “I understand the salespeople have a difficult job, but for me it’s the length. I often receive emails that are paragraphs long. For me I would suggest a few sentences at most, maybe include a product one-pager I can read when I have time and of course the person's contact information.”

Jessica Murdzak’s response to Michael: “I've gotten mixed feedback on including a white paper or any type of attachment/link ect. ... bc malware or malicious intent ... so many CISOs have told me, if it's a cold outreach and it includes a link or an attachment, it's straight to the trashbox.”

Joseph Costantini’s response to Jessica: “Indeed, avoid PDF attachments. If interested, see Adobe posting:"

John Fowler II: “The thing I hate most about sales e-mails is when they tell me that I clearly don’t care about 'x, y, and z' unless I connect with them. It’s an instant delete for me. It’s the ABC’s for me: Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity!”

Ken Stephens: “Most sales emails I receive are from people who don't know me or my business model. The latest ridiculousness was someone wanting to rewrite my honeypot thinking it was a functional sales site. Their scanning couldn't even determine there wasn't anywhere to enter a purchase.”

Maureen Niemiec: “I’m sure you’ll get more fodder than you can use. Here are a few examples. 1- when the person wants me to spend time with them to set up a meeting for their boss. So my time is less valuable than their boss? 2- when they talk about my challenges at a previous employer and how they can solve those problems. Well better chat with my replacement. 3- When I’ve politely explained that I don’t have an active project but let them know they can contact me at end of year and they immediately set up a Teams meeting. Nope, 'contact me' does not mean you’re already on my calendar. 4- when they cannot articulate what their product does. They can only repeat the message they were given and it’s usually a conglomeration of buzz words. For that I blame the employer. Train your folks. Have them use your product so they can answer the simple question on what their product does in plain language.”

Yaron Levi: “I wrote about this in this post

Jessica Murdzak (again): “Food for thought, to everyone commenting on this post. How many of you have real discussions with your own sales teams about what works and doesn't work so that they can be more effective?”

Charles Buchler: “One thing we must always remember, treat others as you would want to be treated. Be firm and say, 'no, thank you' if the mail was crafted for you or your company, if it part of a bulk mailing list, delete and block. As an anecdote, many years ago I was a portfolio manager for a consumer electronics company. I had one client which was a good guy and we invited him on a trip to a city where we kept a yacht. But since it was quite far we decided to stop at another retailer group. We took this national buyer (different product range) with us into the meeting introducing him as an associate, coming out of the meeting his reactions, 'they are very disrespecting.' 'Do I come over like that?😮' 'Yes, most of the time🤣.'”


Yes, there are cyber hygiene implications to some of these email issues, and I've covered those in previous blogs. Here are a few topics to consider:

Nevertheless, this article is not (mainly) about the security aspects of these emails. Many people never get that far.

Some may think generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) will come to the rescue, but GenAI is also being used to create and perfect these emails being sent (for profit), so a bit of an email battle is going on. This YouTube video covers some of these topics:


So what do I recommend?

This is a hard question to answer, because no matter what proper etiquette is used by most email marketers, I do not have the time or desire to read and respond to what you are offering en masse. I have a day job to do, and it is not to help you sell your latest whatever. For example: Emails offering me awards (especially from magazines that I have never heard of and/or are considered “pay to play”) will be deleted.

That being said, I do pay attention to people I really know, as well as companies I know and respect. So first, send a genuine email from a real person who is verified.

Most unsolicited emails end up in the spam folder, but real relationships from trusted people are read and often addressed appropriately. This means meeting real people at conferences, events, business meetings and other business situations prior to sending emails. Network the "old-fashioned way" and earn the right to be heard.

Finally, do your homework. I am not going to fall for your mass-marketing technique 99.999 percent of the time. Offer compelling answers, not one-liners.

As I have said in this blog and numerous times around the world at conferences, we need to build trust, and keep human trust in a zero-trust world.
Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.