You're presenting your product to a couple. One of them is ready to buy. The other is obviously uninterested. That's trouble.

Whatever you do, advises Tom Farmer, general sales manager at American Home Crafts in Sacramento, Calif., don't ignore the silent spouse. “The sale has to be made with both people happy and satisfied,” he says, “or you won't get referrals and you'll miss opportunities for future business.”

A more immediate consequence is that you'll have a lower closing rate, Farmer says, and even if you get the sale, it will often be unwound through a quick cancellation.

Frank Manzare, vice president and partner at Statewide Remodeling in Grand Prairie, Texas, agrees that an uninterested spouse is often the reason a deal dies. “If uninterested people aren't going to make a decision in front of you, they'll make it when you're gone,” he says. “If the deal's going to get killed, those people are going to kill it.”

UP TO SPEED Dan McDowell, an inspector at Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing in Columbia, Md., finds it's rare for one spouse to completely dominate a sales presentation. More commonly, he says, one party will be more engaged while the salesperson presents. “One person seems to know more or care more,” he says.

Farmer says that in about half of his company's sales calls, one spouse is dominant. “They're the ones who probably set the appointment, who first voice objections, and who have 50 questions,” he says.

Often, one spouse didn't even know there would be an appointment before the rep knocked at the door, according to Farmer. “You have to find out how that spouse feels about the whole situation,” he explains. “I teach my people to find out who set the appointment and to then bring the other person up to speed.”

SELL TO BOTH Manzare trains reps to get oral commitments at each decision point of the presentation from the less-dominant spouse. “Always sell to both parties,” he says. For instance, say you ask whether you've answered all the couple's questions, and just one prospect responds. Ask the silent spouse: “Does that make sense to you?”

To close a sale, all parties must be fully informed, McDowell says. “If you can get the other party interested and working with you during the presentation, you won't have a problem with cancellations,” he says. “But if you haven't brought the passive spouse into the discussion and got them to agree to the terms, you haven't done your job.” —G.M. Filisko is a freelance writer based in Chicago.