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After graduating from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa with a degree in Broadcast Management, Michelle Novak launched her career at Saga Communications and, within a year, moved to their corporate office in Stamford, Connecticut.
This was in the early days of media consolidation - duopolies and multi-opolies - and Michelle was part of the company as it grew from nine to 90 radio stations across 23 markets. Her responsibilities included overseeing research, programming, marketing and digital strategies. Email marketing and websites were becoming a core part of the marketing strategy, and Michelle fell in love with digital media.
In 2008, Michelle joined Presslaff Interactive, leading sales and client services for this email and database marketing SaaS platform. They focused on helping media companies leverage data and use email to strengthen audience relationships.
During her nine years at Presslaff, Michelle realized she enjoyed building long-term relationships and working with customers on their audience acquisition and retention strategies. Michelle joined Iterable in 2018 as an Enterprise Customer Success Manager.
During the fall of 2017, Michelle was preparing a conference presentation on acquisition and retention strategies when she came across an Iterable report and webinar. Afterward, Michelle contacted Alyssa Jarrett (then Senior Manager of Brand and Content Marketing at Iterable, now Head of Marketing at Rockerbox) and started following Iterable on LinkedIn. Less than a year later, Michelle saw a posting for an Enterprise CSM role in Iterable’s newly opened NYC office. Michelle applied and landed the job.
Michelle now leads a team of six Enterprise Customer Success Managers (ECSMs) who manage a $16 million dollar book of business, including several of the company’s largest customers. As an Iterable Customer Success leader, Michelle is also responsible for revenue forecasting and connecting customers to the product and marketing teams in order to evolve the Iterable product.
During her first year at Iterable, Michelle was the only CSM in the New York office. She was craving a community for idea sharing and inspiration, so she connected with a few other female Customer Success professionals in the city. This led her to co-found ThriveNetwork with Vanessa Neurohr, Senior Director of Customer Success at Muck Rack. Three years later, ThriveNetwork is a community of more than 900 women in customer-facing roles across the world, with a robust Slack group and regular learning and networking events. Most recently, ThriveNetwork partnered with software company Catalyst to launch a comprehensive Customer Success Compensation study and they just released the results.
The most rewarding aspect of building ThriveNetwork, according to Michelle Novak, comes from the conversations with members who talk about how valuable the group was when they were job searching, seeking answers to challenges in their roles or looking for pick-me-ups during difficult times. “It’s an amazing group of women,” said Michelle, “and I am so proud of how they all collaborate to support one another.”
Michelle named Ruth Presslaff, Founder of Presslaff Interactive, as her mentor. “I knew her for several years before joining her company,” Michelle explained, “and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work for her. I had no previous sales experience, and she trusted me to help her grow her company, while teaching me so much about being an effective manager and how to run a business. I am incredibly grateful for our friendship and still rely on her guidance.”
Success doesn’t come without hurdles. In May 2017, Michelle was feeling burnt out, and she knew it was time to make a change. She quit her job before having another job lined up. Michelle had a desire to pivot from working in media to working for a tech company, but her network was focused on media.
Michelle knew she had strong experience with transferable skills, so she enlisted a career coach to help craft a resume and LinkedIn profile that would allow her to pivot. Michelle didn’t anticipate it would be hard to transition to a new field and find a new job, but she comments now, “Oh, the innocence of a person who hadn’t been in the market since the advent of applicant tracking systems!”
Michelle read the book Do Over by Jon Acuff and applied its lessons on reaching out to connections for very specific help or guidance, along with taking every opportunity to attend events where she could build a new network. At one of the conferences, Michelle met Jen Capstraw, President & Co-Founder of Women of Email (and now also a Women of Martech Steering Committee Member). Michelle’s new connection with Jen Capstraw led her to focus more directly on martech companies in the email space, which in part brought Michelle to Iterable.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” is advice Michelle offers to Women of Martech members. “If you see an opportunity within your company to improve processes, build out a plan, talk to your manager and offer to help spearhead the initiative. When you have the opportunity to lead a project, take it!”
Michelle also encourages women to “Make a habit of connecting with leaders within your company or industry. Once a month, identify someone you want to get to know and make a coffee date, 15-minute Zoom meeting, whatever…” Michelle notes that many women are afraid of rejection or believe that leaders don’t want to spend time with individual contributors, but she says, “Any leader who is worth getting to know will make time to meet with people who want to learn, grow and help build the company.”
Lastly, Michelle advocates for women to “Get involved in organizations like Women of Martech, where you can meet like-minded professionals who are eager to grow themselves and help others grow their career.”
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