The telephone rings or maybe you get an email. It’s a human being potentially interested in your offering. A warm lead—hurrah! But are you sure it’s “warm”? For that matter, are you sure it’s even a lead?

How much time have you spent chasing after supposedly warm leads that turned out not to be bona fide opportunities after all? How much time have you spent interacting with prospects who are “just looking,” who are “gathering information” or who “need to check with someone else before making a decision”?

Prospecting is not getting easier. On the contrary, it’s getting harder. Prospects have shorter attention spans and a lot of options. In addition, there are only so many hours in the day you can spend looking for new business. It makes sense, then, to restrict your time to the people who are most likely to buy what you’re selling. Unfortunately, far too many sales professionals spend far too much time chasing after “inquiries” that turn out to be worthless.

My friend and colleague, Bob Bly, has drawn the following helpful distinctions:

Suspect. Anyone in the universe who could possibly buy your offering.

Prospect. Someone with the money, authority and desire to buy your offering.

Inquiry. A contact from a suspect.

Lead. A contact from a prospect.

Too many sales professionals do not understand these important distinctions. Just because someone calls you or sends you an email does not make them a prospect or a lead. And it certainly does not make them “warm.”

If you can learn to tell the difference between suspects and prospects, you can stop wasting your valuable selling time chasing after cold inquires, which are not likely to yield a sale, and instead focus on warm leads, which are.

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How to get great insurance leads

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Wendy Weiss, aka The Queen of Cold Calling, is president of ColdCallingResults.com. She is also the author of Cold Calling for Women and The Sales Winner’s Handbook.