When you're talking to married clients, are you directing your eye contact solely to the husband? Do you slow your speech — to the point of condescension — when you address the wife?

Many reps — particularly male ones — do, but sales and training experts say such gaffes can cost a rep business.

“A good rule of thumb is that 50 percent of your attention should be given to the woman, even if you think the man is the primary decision maker,” says Steven Drozdeck, of Drozdeck & Associates, a business consulting organization in Logan, Utah. He says male advisors often make the mistake of assuming the man controls most of the financial assets. It might not be overt, but subconscious behavior such as eye contact, rate of speech and other body-language “tells” can make or break a meeting with a client couple.

Another approach is to begin by “asking, ‘Who wants to go first?’” says Bill Bachrach, president of Bachrach & Associates in San Diego. Engaging the one who doesn't answer ensures the quiet one is heard and won't simply ditto the dominant one's answers, he says. Besides, the quiet one may be the one who holds sway over final decisions.

Why is this so important? Not only might she be the primary breadwinner and decision maker, but your communication skills also hold more weight with her than with her hubby. According to a Fidelity Investments 2003 survey, among affluent women investors — those with more than $1 million in investable assets — 61 percent believe the advisor relationship is equal in importance to investment performance. That compares with just 40 percent of men.