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Once upon a time, a Queen pioneered the concept of content marketing in real estate. It wasn’t any of the Elizabeths or someone from a children’s fairy tale -- it was trailblazer and real estate mogul Leona Helmsley.

I worked for the infamous Mrs. Helmsley on The Palace Hotel’s corporate leasing program. The Palace was one of the best training grounds for a young man to learn about sales from an industry icon who was so talented you never realized she was selling real estate.

Corporate leasing in hotels is similar to what is now done by companies through condominium ownership. Companies 'purchased' suites in the hotel, and management, clients, or friends were booked into the suite as if it was a corporate apartment.

The guest experience was customized based on the company’s demands and the guest’s personal needs. The refrigerator might be filled daily with those foods requested by a client visiting for a three-day sales meeting with your team. Banks, ad agencies, and Fortune 100 companies all used our service to house their visitors.

In the 1980s, far before the digital age wrapped your thoughts in a hashtag, Mrs. Helmsley was decades ahead of her time. Here are the three lessons I learned from her.

1) She never went for the hard sell.

Looking back, Leona Helmsley was the originator of consultative selling. I spend a lot of time now teaching my sales team not to use the hard sell with clients. Instead, the agent’s role is to assist their client in finding their home. They have to understand their clients’ needs and maintain a friendly but professional relationship. The client should know that their agent is working hard on their behalf. 

Mrs. Helmsley never 'sold' the suite. She got to know her clients, and used that connection to 'provide' them the suite through a shared understanding of what they needed. Whether it was preparing the suite for a multimillion-dollar account or accommodating a guest who needed the utmost discretion and privacy, she made it clear she understood their expectations and would meet their needs.

2) She thoroughly researched every client.

Mrs. Helmsley knew everything there was to know about the client before they arrived at her all-pink executive quarters.

Once, she learned that someone coming in was in the market for a Learjet. She sent me to get a magazine with an ad for one, and left it open on the coffee table so they would see it when they sat down. Sure enough, the CEO said, "Are you in the market for a jet? We are looking at them as well."

She went on to give him some info she had gathered. They chatted and commiserated, and he was sold. It wasn’t just the luxury suite that sealed the deal -- her knowledge about her client proved that our team was in synch with the needs of his team.

3) She spent time building her brand.

Mrs. Helmsley held the steadfast belief that your brand is everything.

Her ‘Where The Queen Stands Guard’ print campaign was the public face of the Helmsley Hotel chain. The ads, written from her perspective, promised that everything down to the towels would be of the same quality she demanded for herself.

Mrs. Helmsley was also committed to responding to guest feedback through comment cards left in hotel rooms. Today, this is a common practice, but it was very unusual in the 1980s. Mrs. Helmsley would answer every single comment card herself. Whether it was in response to a compliment or a criticism, each answer -- dozens every week -- went out on her personal stationery. She took great pleasure and pride in the task. Success is in the details.

Today, I teach my agents that you cannot rely on your employer to ensure the success of the image you create for yourself. Only you can truly manage your brand.

Leona Helmsley taught me the value of enthusiastically researching the buyer to provide them a level of comfort so sellers could easily navigate the deal to its inevitable conclusion. And to this day, I believe it's that level of detail prior to meeting with a potential client that will separate the best brokers from everyone else.

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Originally published Feb 26, 2016 6:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

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