top of page
  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

Can You TRUST A Cold Sales Email?

Today, 56.5% of emails are spam, for which 73% is identity theft, and 36% is marketing/advertising for things we don’t need. The U.S. alone generates 8.6b spam emails every day. You get those emails. Spam folders try to block most of them but occasionally allow false positives (credible emails that get caught up in spam folders) or false negatives (spam emails that pass through the filter) to go through. You are the last line of defense. How can you tell if an email is spam or not? In this article, using two of the 8 laws of trust and my 6-component relative trust model, I will demonstrate how I analyze an email to determine whether it’s spam or not.

Last week, I received the following email:

Good afternoon , hope your Friday is going great!
Is it okay if we sent you over some clients in need of business coaching, and you don't pay unless you close a client.
No secret Fees
No secret retainers
Compensate me solely for the results I produce.
I'm looking to let 2 coaches test drive our 100% performance model.
Simply reply “YES” and your phone number if this piques your interest
Simple reply “STOP” if you never want me to contact you again.
Thank you,
XXX (Name withheld)

The impact on trustfulness

I rank the commercial emails I receive (those with a value proposition and a price) on a scale. On one end of the scale are those (few) emails that offer real value that I care about at a price that’s worth it (to me). On the other end of the scale are the emails I receive that attempt to hack into my computer, steal my identity, take my money, or do other things that have no value to me but still come at a price. In the middle are the many emails offered by people who genuinely want to provide value for a price, except that the value they offer doesn’t justify the price they are asking for, at least not for me.

The constant increase in the two latter types of emails hurts my trustfulness, the trust I have in email marketing in general.

You must ask yourself why so many people send those emails, then? Well, I consider this to be very similar to a pyramid scheme. People are offering “sure ways” to generate more revenue, to get more customers, and they teach people how to send emails that would supposedly get you more clients and more income. Except with the proliferation of such emails, their effectiveness decreases to zero. Even though you already paid to learn that “secret formula to get more business,” that is no longer working.

Email analysis

After this preamble, let’s analyze the specific email I received to show you how I determine whether to trust the email enough to respond or act on it.

  • Trust transferability (trust law #5). I don’t know anything about the person who sent me the email. I never heard about him before. He was never recommended to me by anyone I trust. I haven’t searched for him (I couldn’t—more on that later), so the starting point of the “who you are” set of components is zero. I have zero trust in him before starting to read his email.

  • Competence. The email format is unprofessional. There was no company name. The email address from which it was sent followed the format No company domain name. There were several grammatical errors and typos—my conclusion: low competence, and thus low trust.

  • Personality Compatibility. I know nothing about the person sending me the email, so I have no way to determine whether our personalities are compatible or not. Conclusion: low trust.

  • Symmetry. Here, the sender offered a no-risk proposition. “Don't pay unless you close a client.” That’s interesting. He is not asking for money upfront without guaranteeing results. That’s a good indication of symmetry. In fact, it’s even leaning in my direction as I get to “close a customer” before he gets paid by me. This item made me pause, and I almost responded to him willing to engage. This risk-reduction item suggests I can trust him. But then I started wondering what “closing a customer” really means. Maybe I’m cynical and realistic based on my experience and low trustfulness (not to mention all the other red flags). Still, I don’t believe I will get to actually communicate with the customer directly. I will have to trust the sender that only once I paid for the customer I “closed” will I get to communicate with them directly.

  • Positivity/Empathy. His email does not address me by name. It’s a sign of a “cut and paste” standard format, which is the only format you would use to send many messages quickly. Frankly, there are CRM and email programs that would allow you to automatically “mail merge” my name into the right place in the email, and the fact that he didn’t even use something like that is another indication of low competence. Furthermore, the fact that he is offering me a way to get more coaching clients, completely unaware of the fact that I, well, don’t coach, is another sign that he knows nothing about me and that this is one of many, many emails like this he sends. Conclusion: Low trust.

  • Positivity/NoBS. The email states, "I'm looking to let 2 coaches test drive.” That’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, used to create a sense of scarcity, opportunity, and pressure. Furthermore, he claims that I will be “test driving their 100% performance model.” Really? Does he have a 100% performance model? Both these statements indicate to me a very high level of BS. Conclusion: Low trust.

So far, everything (except the supposed symmetry and risk-reduction provisions) suggests low trust. But I had to ask myself, what do I have to lose? No upfront fees, what not just give him my details and let him help me “close” two clients and see how this works?

After all, you need trust to compensate for the risk that comes with an opportunity. I can see the opportunity (two clients), and there is no risk, so why do I need to trust him?

The answer is that I have two things to lose, that if I didn’t pay attention, I would lose both:

  • Time and effort in communicating with him

  • I am giving him my personal information that he is asking for (even if only a telephone number), risking that information getting to the wrong hands, and multiplying the amount of spam mail (if not worse) I receive.

The reply

It was not worth it, but I decided to reply anyway, so I replied as follows:

Thank you for your message. I thank you for a not-very-obvious reason.
As I'm thinking about what to talk about in my next podcast episode, your message gave me an idea, and that's to address how you can determine if you can trust someone who sends you a cold email sales message.
The short answer to your question is "No" (or STOP, if you prefer), but I would encourage you to listen to the next episode of The TRUST Show Podcast (next Tuesday) to learn why.
Don't worry, I will not use your name or email address to identify you. But I will analyze your email and why I decided not to accept your offer. Maybe you can learn something from it.

Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast episode at:

Dr. Yoram Solomon

Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a three-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to magazine.


The Book of Trust®, The Innovation Culture Institute®, and Trust Habits® are registered trademarks of Yoram Solomon. Trust Premium™ and The Trust Show™ are trademarks of Yoram Solomon.

16 views0 comments


bottom of page