To Zoom or not to zoom, that is the question

Shakespeare will have to forgive my reworking of his famous phrase, but it just seems to sum up the content of this article perfectly!

To Zoom or not to zoom

Other well known brands will also have to forgive me, but ‘Zoom Meeting’ has entered into the common English phrasebook to define a virtual meeting, just like the brand Hoover is synonymous with vacuum cleaning, and Jacuzzi often being used to describe a hot tub.

What I want to discuss here is whether Zoom (other brands to mention are Microsoft Teams and Google Meet amongst others) meetings should continue to be used in the way everyone has become used to them being used.

Pros and cons of virtual meetings

The main benefits of a Zoom meeting are these:

  • They are easy to set up and be part of
  • They can be joined from any device with an internet connection
  • They can be joined from anywhere without any travel time
  • Screen sharing allows a focus on relevant information for all parties
  • They can be recorded and shared with people who couldn’t make it

The main drawbacks are:

  • It’s difficult to gauge overall body language
  • You cannot dress a room to create the right atmosphere
  • There is no physical contact involved (handshakes, hugs, etc)
  • You cannot offer people a beverage or a biscuit! 

Finding and recruiting franchisees over zoom

During 2020 and 2021, there are many examples of franchisors who recruited franchisees without there ever being a physical or face-to-face meetings.
The only reason this happened was because there was an acceptance from both parties it was the only way to move things forward in the circumstances. 

Those circumstances have now changed back to a more normal level and I’d be surprised to hear of any franchisors fully recruiting franchisees virtually anymore.

What I know is continuing to happen is many potential franchisees are meeting the franchisor for the first time on a Zoom meeting, and I wanted to go through what I believe should be best practice regarding the use of virtual and physical meetings.

Zoom fatigue

‘Zoom Fatigue’ has become recognised as a real thing and I’d totally agree with this. I’m sure we can all relate to feeling totally drained if we’ve been involved in Zoom meetings (with the camera on!) for more than 3-4 hours in a day, whether at a personal or business level.

Apparently, and scientifically, the main reasons for this (without going into detail) are:

  • Face-to-face meetings are easier on our brains
  • Virtual meetings make it easier for people to lose concentration
  • Starting at a screen doesn’t allow eye contact in the right way
  • The brain has to fill in gaps through lost context
  • Watching yourself on screen is tiresome

When to use zoom and when to meet face-to-face

At the early stages of due diligence, potential franchisees don’t really want any interaction with other people at all. They are happy to receive one way communication which helps them understand more about the franchise opportunity. They don’t even want to talk to anyone on the phone, let alone attend a virtual or physical meeting at this stage!

As interest in the franchise opportunity increases, two way communication becomes necessary in order to find out more information and ask questions where answers cannot be found online. This almost always starts with a telephone call.

Usually, following a telephone call or two, the potential franchisee would be invited to a face-to-face meeting, often at the headquarters of the franchise brand. 

This is where the process changed due to the pandemic.

Instead of a face-to-face meeting, people were invited to a virtual meeting (which quickly became a ‘Zoom’ meeting as everyone started to make use of the platform – remember that Zoom was free for everyone to use for up to 40 mins, which is how they became a household name).

In the beginning, franchisors tried to replace a face-to-face meeting with a Zoom meeting, and these virtual meetings sometimes lasted as long as the usual face-to-face meeting (2-3 hours not including travel time). As everyone realised this wasn’t sustainable, Zoom meetings got shorter and shorter, and often it took 3-4 Zoom meetings to replace what would be covered at an in-person meeting.

My rule has always been not to get a franchise agreement signed until the candidate and the franchisor had met in person as it seemed far too great a risk to commit to a typical 5 year agreement without ever meeting face to face.

Of course the length of the pandemic and consequent lockdowns meant that this rule had to be broken if people wanted to move forward, and, as long as all parties understood this, then it actually proved successful for many franchisors, and franchisees.

What to do now

With lockdowns hopefully a thing of the past, and with many people tiring of Zoom meetings on a one-to-one basis, many franchisors are reverting back to the objectives of getting people to a physical meeting as soon as the first stages of due diligence are completed and a qualifying telephone call has been held.

My advice to franchisors when they have someone interested in their opportunity is to look carefully at the best recruitment process involving the right mix of telephone conversations, virtual meetings and physical meetings.

There is no perfect template I can share which can be applied to every brand because there are a lot of factors involved which must be taken into account including:

  • How impressive are the brand headquarters (some franchisors don’t have any!)?
  • Is it a franchise model with premises involved?
  • How well does the franchisor or representatives come across on a virtual meeting (this requires an honest assessment)?
  • Should a physical (or virtual meeting) include more than one interested party?

In Summary

In places like North America and Australia virtual meetings have always replaced physical meetings until the final stage due to the geographical size of those territories.

In the UK, and many other countries where a physical meeting (plus travel time) can take place during working hours, people are wanting (and expecting) to make the effort again, and it can be a big mistake to continue believing that a Zoom meeting is the preferred option.

Dugan Aylen
Dugan Aylen