Interview.

“Vision 2000 was one of the biggest draws when I started at Bechtle.”

Jürgen Schäfer on team spirit, omni-channel communication, thinking beyond national borders and a commitment to commerce. The COO for IT E-commerce has seen three Visions turned into reality, and is now set to embark on the journey laid out by Vision number four.

Mr Schäfer, Vision 2020 has another two years in it, yet Bechtle has already created a blueprint for the year 2030. What’s the thinking behind that?

Jürgen Schäfer: This kind of long-term planning is quite typical for us, and epitomises the essence of our brand: Bechtle is zukunftsstark. It’s never too early to start planning for the future, which is why we turned our attention to Vision 2030 at the beginning of 2018, taking our time to discuss in detail the form it would take. It was certainly an enriching process that yielded excellent results.

This is the fourth Bechtle Vision you’ve experienced. What are your takeaways from the previous three?

Vision 2000 was one of the biggest draws for me when I started at Bechtle 30 years ago. I was incredibly impressed by how, in 1988, such a small company had the courage to set themselves such ambitious goals and the fact that Ralf Klenk, co-founder and then CEO, was so completely driven by this Vision was a deciding factor for me. It was contagious. Vision 2010 created the impetus to develop our central Logistics & Services unit and break into international markets. Vision 2020 was the Executive Board’s guiding star, and has been steering Bechtle’s fortunes since 2009. All of these Visions defined our aspirations and motivations and this remains the case today.

Bechtle is aiming to achieve revenues of 10 billion euros by 2030. That’s quite an ambitious goal …

… as was the target of 5 billion euros we set ourselves 10 years ago. We’re going to achieve both. How can I be so sure? Because Bechtle is an outstanding team.

Another ambition is: “We aspire to lead the market”. This applies to both technology-specific and regional markets. Which regional markets are your sights set on?

From a geographical point of view, we will continue to build on our leading position in our core markets—the DACH region, France and Benelux. We are also keeping an eye on emerging countries such as Romania, to name just one. We are continuing to monitor developments and weigh up the opportunities and risks.

That means we will see increasing internationalisation?

Absolutely. Internationalisation is a hot topic for both our customers and our vendors, and it’s one of our most important competitive edges. Thinking beyond borders is a mentality that has shaped us for years. Our Global IT Alliance has enabled us to achieve remarkable coverage across all continents and complements the companies we have representing us in 14 European countries—an absolutely modern, forward-looking form of internationality.

Today, 23 years after the Bechtle shop first went online, you are responsible for the IT E-commerce segment as COO. How will this business change over the coming years?

We’re moving towards omni-channel communication—digital video telephony that presents a real alternative to face-to-face meetings. We can safely assume that with increasing environmental awareness and in the face of the daily chaos on the roads, the use of video telephony, telepresence and web meetings will significantly increase—also when it comes to customer support. Modern selling strategies, for example via LinkedIn or other social media channels, will be indispensable when it comes to acquiring new customers.

How different is the B2B business from B2C?

For one thing, there’s the product range as consumer products are completely different to those for use in enterprises. There are also contrasts in the procurement processes, even though the people involved are often the same. This is why we keep a keen eye on developments in the consumer sector, checking to what extent they can be adapted to suit our own offering.

What can Bechtle learn from platforms such as Amazon and Alibaba?

Their impeccable logistics is something that immediately comes to mind as well as the use of advanced artificial intelligence. With applications and tools like Alexa, these companies have moved extremely close to the point of purchase. However, the biggest difference and the most crucial for us remains the personal contact.

Bechtle also has initiatives for using artificial intelligence to optimise the customer journey. Where are we headed in this respect?

We’re proud of our small but highly specialised team that are doing an outstanding job and we’ll see the first results next year—I don’t want to give anything away just yet.

What’s your general assessment of the development opportunities in e-commerce for Bechtle

“The sky is the limit.” What does that mean exactly? We remain unrivalled thanks to our excellently trained employees, expertly advising our customers over the phone; comprehensive product range, excellent logistics, close relationships with vendors and the best systems connecting us Europe-wide. The market has changed significantly over the last few years and our opportunities for growth have become even greater.

Commerce is the opening of Bechtle’s success story. What is the next chapter?

The 10 billion euro revenue target set out in Vision 2030 shows our commitment to the commerce segment. However, we can already confidently say that commerce in the future will not be the same as the commerce we know today. It’s no longer about selling individual products, but offering the right solution, tailored to the specific needs of customers in their particular situation and industry. It’s less about selling products than about understanding customers and making things work. I am convinced that we will always be able to master these constant changes thanks to experience gleaned over the previous decades.

How can the Systems Integration and E-commerce segments become even more close-knit to unlock as yet unused synergies?

The Bechtle-for-Bechtle initiative, or BforB for short, that we launched in 2015 exploits the strengths of the two segments to win customers for both. This project has fostered a positive mentality that I feel is continuing to evolve. The idea that Systems Integration and E-commerce—two segments with very different profiles and identities—will come together as “One Bechtle” has a bright future.

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