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How I passed the Jack Miller Seminar on Marketing for the Construction Industry

   Author: Douglas Loft
Location: Orlando, Florida

I took a call from the Jack Miller Organization as I was wearing my contractor's hat. I was plenty skeptical. Another company that wanted to tell me how to run my business - get in line. How had she broken through my lines of defense to even speak with me? She was smooth without being slick, professional without being too polished, persistent without being pushy. I listened, played nice and said I'd check out their website.

So I did. There was Jack right up front, pointing the way. The site itself was simple, direct and easy to read with menu bars on the left side that stayed put so I could browse the pages easily. The only thing I found seriously lacking was a secure key for the credit card charges - I'd order by phone. Oh, and don't look for any pricing either (page 68 in the manual). Like most things in the construction world, what you pay is in part determined by how hard you bargain.

A visit to Orlando, my own backyard, was only 45 days away. This would also fill the requirements for continuing education for my contractor's license this year, though at a much steeper price than other venues. This seemed different, though; I thought I might actually learn something. After a decade of ignoring all who claimed they could help me increase profits, get more work and generally do all that I do even better (I know, I didn't believe that was possible either), I took the plunge and signed up for 2 days of the Jack Miller seminar on Marketing For The Construction Industry. In this uncertain economy, I congratulate you if you don't need anyone else's advice. The manual for the seminar came (as soon as I paid) so I could look it over, develop questions and even begin to put the information to work. I glanced through it and set it aside for a month.

It was bitterly cold for both days of the seminar (anything under 50 degrees in Orlando is bitterly cold), but nearly all of the 75 seats were taken. I tried to ease into the room, but Madeline, Jack's right hand for 40 years, was impossible to sneak past. Five minutes later I was seated with a cup of coffee. At 8AM sharp, Jack (we're all on a first name basis here) began to speak. He's rich. He showed us a list of people who listen to him and they're rich too. Not Bill Gates rich, but comfortable enough for most of us. Jack says that if you want to be rich like these people and Jack, then pay attention and he'll show us how. I want to be rich. Show me the way, Jack.

Jack talks high energy and he walks it. With arms extended at his side, he snaps his fingers on both hands in a rapid, short series, often to punctuate remarks; he laughs often in an energetic staccato that's become his trademark; he moves about as he talks, waving papers in the air and depositing them on a side table across the room while continuing his discussion along the way; he utters REAL WORLD often to accentuate points and let you know that 'this really happened and you could learn from it!', another trademark; during breaks, he's usually taking questions and chatting with attendees; he listens attentively, sometimes cupping his ears to compensate for a hearing loss he suffered years ago on a pile driving crew; he checks his watch frequently and keeps a tight schedule; he shoots his age in golf - he's 71. He looks like a tall Mr. Magoo with his oversized glasses and hair slicked back (referring to himself often as an old coot), talks like George Patton and acts like the Evangelical Construction Consultant. He's very accessible and takes on all comers. If he's not high energy, he's likely to be asleep.

During one of the breaks on the first day, I showed him my construction company brochure. He liked it a lot ("One of the best I've ever seen") and asked to keep it. Score 1 for me - this was going well so far! I offered some website no-no's to expand his list and sat down for the next round of marketing salvos. Me and Jack were tight.

The most animated discussion of the seminar arose when discussing profit sharing and bonus plans, which even drew political remarks but stopped short of pastry tossing. It was obvious that this issue is near and dear to most contractors. The discussion was probably representative of those promised in his Jack Miller Network meetings, as Jack displayed his audience management skills - he knows how to work a room and guide a discussion.

It occurred to me that this was just the kind of stuff that Metworkers ought to be hearing. After all, Jack was one of us. He took the precursor to Steelox to new heights, pedaling metal buildings all over South Dakota in the late 50's. I shifted gears. During a later break, I handed him my business card and talked about a story. The hint of skepticism that crept into Jack's face informed me that I had crossed the line from customer to salesman. I wasn't ready for this - we hadn't even gotten to page 92 in the manual yet and I had completely blown #7 already. I slunk back to my seat, wondering where I had gone wrong. I'd find out tomorrow. Right now, I felt like I'd been exposed on an episode of The Mole and the other contestants were not happy with me.

Jack's good for a Miller Lite at the hotel pub after work. If you'll buy, he'll advise. It's the first time I've seen so many people in a bar focused on one thing... that didn't involve sports or nudity. There were enough buyers to put him under the table, but hey, there's work to do tomorrow (Page 92, #13). I joined them, and after Jack left I spoke to two very different company owners about their experiences.

The first were Bob Licciardi and Tim Marsh from Gainesville, Georgia - about 45 miles northeast of Atlanta. They're specialty contractors, performing gas station rebrandings in Georgia and Florida (if you'd like to get in touch with them, drop me an e-mail and I'll forward it for you). You know how you drive to work on Monday past that Exxon and on Friday it's a BP? These are the guys who do it. Bob and Tim heard about this seminar through a phone solicitation. The lingering effects of 9-11 along with the uncertainty of war have combined to stagnate their core business (I'm sure nobody else has had that problem...) and they're looking for new markets. They mentioned a common theme that I heard from others present - they'd received an affirmation of some things they were thinking about or dabbling in. Jack plays Captain Obvious at times, saying the things you and I know we need to do... but that doesn't mean we do them. Sometimes you need Captain Obvious to point out that which you already know so that you can refocus and reapply yourself with newfound vigor. And Jack isn't hesitant to back it up with statistics and examples. Jack's more than willing and able to slap you on the helmet, sharpen your focus, apply some energy and send you back into battle.

Bob and Tim were looking for advice on hiring a sales person to develop new business, a topic in tomorrow's session, though the pointers on direct mail today also got their attention. Given the large geographic area that they cover in their business, along with the fact that they themselves are not natural salesmen (like most who start their own businesses), a full-time sales position seems warranted. The price of the seminar was fairly steep for them and it's doubtful that they'll be attending others until they've reaped some payoff from this one. Whether Jack sees them again will depend upon the quality of his methods and their persistence in carrying them out.

My second interview was much different. Tim Cummings of Cummings Electrical, Inc. out of Irving, Texas had the look of somebody who had been there/done that. His current company operated at around $20 Million in annual revenue. He'd never been to a Jack Miller seminar, though he'd been meaning to for years. Tim has some good friends who belong to the Jack Miller Network. One friend in particular hails from a city of 15,000 in South Dakota, yet racks up $40 Million/year in sales. Tim recently sold a company he had managed for 5 years and grown to $300 Million/year before acquiring his current company. He plans to join the Jack Miller Network and came to Orlando to fulfill the pre-requisite of having attended a Jack Miller Seminar. Jack's direct mail pointers were among the most salient of the day's offerings for his business in particular. He'd tried some direct mail before with little success, but felt Jack may have offered reasons why and solutions for better effect in the future.

Tim pointed out that construction companies in general do a poor job of marketing. The business he recently left behind did $300 Million worth of electrical work a year, but he gives it low marks for marketing. How can you poorly market yourself and do $300 Million worth of business a year? It's based on years and years of relationship building. There's nothing wrong with that, but if those relationships sour, then weakness in the marketing effort begins to manifest itself. His current company's work is approximately 40% negotiated and 60% bid, but he hopes to use knowledge gained from Jack Miller Seminar to help increase the negotiated work percentage. Tim says the real value of the Jack Miller Network will be to instantly learn what some other contractor spent 30 years learning by his own trial and error.

The next day, I again approached Jack about fielding some metal-building related questions to add to my article. There was no mistaking the wariness in his response: "I'll have to take a look at your website," he said as I followed him across the room. Hmm, that should be good for me. He talks of 500,000 hits so far on his site - I had over 75,000 hits last week alone. I've got HTML, Java, ASP, Flash, secure logins, an e-commerce engine, multiple database applications including polling/voting/classifieds/comments, page printing, refer-a-friend, The Metworker... the list goes on. And that's only what the public sees - The Metworker Pro has all sorts of goodies to add to the list. Next to my website, his still has training wheels. Jack says he has 3,000 bookmarks in his Favorites - surely there's room for one more. The thought of organizing 3,000 bookmarks makes me dizzy. I can organize about 100. I use my memory and for the rest. Mostly

At the end of the day, I noticed another attendee taking a picture of Jack and decided that one would be nice with this article. I tracked down Madeline, who hurried off to prep herself. We found Jack when she returned, but by now I was feeling more and more like paparazzi and he was starting to resemble Sean Penn. He refused the photo op, stating again that he had not seen the website. Madeline looked stunned and confused. My first impulse was to go Blazing Saddles: "Picture? We don't need no stinking picture!" Then I remembered Jack had served 4 years in the Korean War. I decided to cut my losses and retreat.

I walked back into the conference room to make sure I didn't forget anything. As I headed out, I performed a series of blunders that would leave me talking to myself. Jack was waiting for the elevator. Perhaps it was Rule 1 on page 61 that started it, but Jack was looking like page 35, worried about page 33 and I completely ignored #8 on page 54. Instead of leaving him with something to think about, I headed to my car. I should have said, "When you visit our website, I think you'll like what you see". Instead, I walked silently to my car in the bitter Orlando cold. After that, I couldn't get the picture out of my head. I combed my manual and looked for advice. Could I sell Jack Miller using his own methods? I decided to try. So if you see a picture of Jack Miller at the top of this article, don't take that as an endorsement of this website. Just take it to mean that I passed.

What do you get when you cross The Metworker with Jack Miller? One example is Span Construction. You may have heard of them - they dominate the top of the charts in the annual ranking in Metal Construction News, they use The Metworker Pro and they're also a Jack Miller fan, as evidenced by a letter of recommendation I spotted on one of the side tables. That's REAL WORLD, as Jack would say. Or, as Budweiser would say, TRUE.

I ended up with 8 pages of notes, about 40 copies of various articles, sales flyers and such, the lengthy course manual and plenty of information about other offerings by the Jack Miller Organization. It'll take some time to implement, but I've already begun to heed his advice on several points. I came away with some ideas that I put to use right away. I'll let you know how it turns out. If you've attended a Jack Miller Seminar or know something of them, I'd like to hear your comments.

Comments: How I passed the Jack Miller Seminar on Marketing for the Construction Industry

From one attendee to another, you have been baptized by Jack Miller. As you are aware, there are no other venues that compete. I have been to both Marketing and Design/Build. Marketing is a great intro but Design/build takes you into the stratasphere. Because of Jack "I am a Superstar"
By Scott Thomson
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