SMM  Strategic Marketing Montreal

How to Think Better
[Newsletter #23]
With only ONE website, is your company really customer-centric?

How Responsible Sales People Beat The E-mail Flood
- The Hermes Protocol and H-mail


The Internet has changed the whole nature of markets. The purchaser is now in the driving seat. He or she can get a mass of information on available products without revealing who they are to potential sellers. This changed world has been described in previous newsletters. In theory, it all sounds fine. In practice, it's not turning out that way.

Information technology provides an incredible toolbox of devices to marketers to develop information on individual purchasers. This can be used to direct personalized messages to individuals. This may be by email messages or by popup windows on the purchaser's favourite browser. Unfortunately these devices are so frequently used, that the purchaser now builds up defenses to keep out all these uncalled-for communications.

The Buyer's Challenge in the Internet Age

Any buyer knows that, without any defenses, he or she could be overwhelmed by the flood of email messages. So often automatic filters are put in place. These may block messages coming from unknown addresses or with certain key words in the subject. The rules can be somewhat draconian, but this must be done to keep the volume down to an acceptable level. Since some unscrupulous sellers will broadcast to a whole host of possibly potential customers, the defenses must be strong.

The downside of this is that it is tough to be sure you are hearing about new products and services you might find interesting. There are companies out there trying to develop product that will do a good job for you. The executives in those companies may be very similar to you. They may have done your job at some time. They may be the kind of people you would like to deal with. They may be trying to get in touch with you, but your defenses will block their messages.


The Seller's Challenge in the Internet Age

The seller has the reverse problem from the buyer. Again the seller may understand how his potential buyer thinks. Perhaps he or she worked in that field. The solution the seller has developed would work very well for the potential buyer. The potential buyer would probably like to hear more about the product or service, if only he or she knew that your company existed. However that impregnable defense against unwanted email messages keeps you out, even though it was designed to keep out the sp*mmers of the world.

A way for responsible sellers to communicate with reasonable buyers

If this responsible seller is to communicate with this reasonable buyer, then something has got to give. If both sides give a little, then both can win at very little extra effort. The way this is done is to follow the Hermes Protocol. This involves a little more work on the seller's part. However in a "permission marketing" based world, where customers dictate how they are sold to, this work is something the seller should be doing anyway.

E-mail messages that follow the Hermes Protocol are called h-mail.

For the buyer, there is very little extra work at all. The buyer must be willing to weaken the email security sufficiently so that the subject lines of h-mail from unknown sellers can be seen. However the Hermes Protocol ensures that merely from the subject line, a potential buyer can very quickly decide either to read more information on what is being offered or put off any further contacts from the seller for at least 6 months.

Of course the potential buyer can also decide to label the source as a junk-mail sender and block mail from that source forever. The result for the buyer is exactly the same as if the Hermes Protocol did not apply. Of course, the responsible seller will not know why no reply has been received. So he or she will continue to try to contact the potential buyer by any means they can. In this case, the potential buyer has not used the full potential of the Hermes Protocol to block sales solicitation for a time.

The Hermes Protocol is very much a win/win situation for both responsible sellers and reasonable buyers. The next section gives the details of the Hermes Protocol.

The Hermes Protocol

The full details of the Protocol can be found at the following webpage, Click on the link to open the page in a new window. Here we give a summary of the main points.

The Hermes Protocol requires that a responsible seller follow all the rules, without exception. The rules cover the following points:

- No automatic computer-based methods to crawl the World Wide Web to capture e-mail addresses for sales solicitation
- Sales solicitation limited to those potential customers, who will see superior benefits
- Verification by other means that e-mail addresses are correct
- Some effort spent in seeking permission by telephone or by regular mail to send email information on products and services

Only one h-mail is sent introducing the products and services including the following elements:

Subject line like this:
[H] Description of product or service being offered. [H]

First line of text like this:
[H] This h-mail is governed by the Hermes Protocol. See end of message for details. [H]

Last paragraph of text like this:
[H] This h-mail is sent to you under the terms of the Hermes Protocol. Further information on the Hermes Protocol can be found at It is believed that the products and services offered to you can provide superior benefits. If you do not want follow-up sales solicitation within the next 6 months, then click on the reply button and send a blank reply including this message. You will not be recontacted within the next 6 months, unless you contact us to permit this. We apologize for any inconvenience caused to you. [H]

The advantage of such an h-mail is that, without opening the message and from the subject line only, the potential buyer can do any of the following:

a) Add this source to their junk e-mail addresses.

b) With two mouse clicks, send a blank email response signaling no sales solicitation for at least 6 months

c) View the body of the email message for potential current interest.

The seller undertakes not to recontact within 6 months any potential customer who sends a blank reply.

The advantages of the Hermes Protocol to the potential buyer

The key advantage to the potential buyer is that h-mail signals that some responsible seller has put some effort into tracking you down as a potential buyer.

The advantages of sending a blank reply rather than just adding the sender to the junk e-mail sender list are:

It cuts down on future e-mail messages and other forms of sales solicitation for at least 6 months

It signals to a responsible seller that you are not currently in the market but could be down the road

The advantages of the Hermes Protocol to the responsible seller

The advantage to the responsible seller is that h-mail is a privileged form of communication. It signals that the seller has put some efforts into identifying potential buyers. It also signals that you are responsible. You do not wish to solicit sales if the purchaser is not interested.

It is very tough to put the key content of your offer in a single subject line. However this is the burden you accept in using the Hermes Protocol. You are doing this so that potential buyers can very quickly determine their current interest in what you are offering.

Using the Hermes Protocol versus strict filters on your email in-basket

Strict filters on your email in-basket are a severe way of coping with the email flood problem. They reject all possible sources of new information. This is an extreme solution to cope with a minor but nevertheless very irritating problem.

The Hermes Protocol encourages better behaviour to deal with the same problem. It forces sellers to work harder to prepare the email messages they do send out. When the potential purchaser puts a priority on reviewing their h-mail, they are more likely to be seeing information that could be useful to them.

A possible problem with the Hermes Protocol and its solution

The only problem with the Hermes Protocol is if unscrupulous sellers decide to adopt the format of h-mail without accepting the constraints. Perhaps they feel this will get them under the defenses of potential purchasers. However given that the subject line must clearly state what is offered, it is unlikely that the [H] at the beginning and end of the subject line will make an inappropriate offering any more likely to get acceptance.

Potential purchasers should be vigilant in applying tougher standards for information given in an h-mail. If it seems clear that the sender has not followed the Hermes Protocol, even though the subject line had the [H] / [H] format, then the sender should be added to your junk email senders list and the message deleted without reading.

When both potential purchasers and responsible sales persons work vigorously within the Hermes Protocol, then gradually h-mail can become the means by which both become more effective in doing their jobs. At best, the Hermes Protocol forces sellers to do a much more effective job. At worst, the Hermes Protocol creates only a minor inconvenience to potential purchasers, when unscrupulous sellers attempt to use it.


The Hermes Protocol is a self-imposed discipline for responsible sellers. SMM will be happy to assist you in building your marketing and selling program to use this to maximum effectiveness.

If you wish to use this approach, SMM will be happy to work with you. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience, creativity and practical common sense can complement those of your company. So write us a Fast Message today, , on what you're looking for.

Barry Welford


So do you agree or disagree? Will you be using the Hermes Protocol? Is there some part of this where you have a problem? Whatever your reaction, please give us your feedback. In this way, we can tune the contact of future Newsletters to better meet your needs.

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How to Think Better
With only ONE website, is your company really customer-centric?


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Copyright 2002 Barry Welford, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Added to site 27 December 2002