To me this is just a sign of laziness on their part - and the unfortunate truth is that just like you can't buy love - you can't buy customers - at least not customers that truly love you.
When I ask about SEO, these companies often say 'it would be impossible to make a dent in SEO given our competitors so the best way to drive traffic to the site is with PPC'.
When I ask about optimizing their site for the web or mobile ads they plan to implement via PPC, the response I often get is 'we will work on that but it's a long road to get there'.
Personally speaking, unless you have gobs of money to invest in PPC marketing, going straight to PPC without thinking about what happens once prospects come to your site is like throwing money down the toilet.
Websites are like a store front - you can drive people there but if your store doesn't look appealing, doesn't have what your prospects are looking for, if people can't understand what you are selling, or if it's hard to navigate the aisles, they may leave more confused than when they arrived or they may not even bother to explore. In addition, you risk losing that customer for ever - even after you make the needed changes and when someone asks them about your company, they don't have anything good to say about it.
Adopting proper SEO techniques ensures that your site is optimized for the prospects who are most relevant and likely to convert. Claiming that your site would never be optimized for anything is like saying your product has no differentiation. There is someone out there searching for what you have to offer and it's a matter of you understanding that and articulating that in key niche search terms. If your product is just not that differentiated, then you have much bigger issues that need to be addressed before assuming that PPC campaigns are going to solve your problems.
For example, if you are a credit card company, you may not win in the 'credit card company' or 'best rate for credit cards' search term categories, but there is a reason you exist. There is some sort of differentiator - whether it's 'best airline miles credit card' or 'credit card with mobile payment' or 'credit card with the most acceptance' or 'credit card with no foreign exchange rate' or whatever that differentiation is- which is why customers like you and chose you over other credit card options. You need to understand what that is. Why do your best customers love you - why would they not want to work with anyone else? Sure you can bid on those terms in PPC, but without a site that is focused on those terms and optimized for them, people will become aware of who you are, come to your site, but not necessarily find the information they need to convert. That's where optimizing your site for SEO via innovative content strategies and proper navigation come into play.
In all fairness, for some companies, there is no clear category for your product yet. Perhaps you are new in the space and you are actually defining that category. If you are an actual company, you still have customers. You need to understand from them what they like about your product and services - what problems are you solving? In those situations, your keywords may be different than just product keywords - they may be related to answering a question. In addition, admittedly, you may need to support your efforts here with ample materials and PR to educate the community about this new category you are building and to 'teach' them what keywords to look for.
Still don't know what search terms you should be going after - sure - go ahead and use PPC as a testing ground to see what terms get prospects to come to your site - and if you can track them all the way to conversion - even better. Some agencies recommend a small investment in PPC to test out search terms that may be relevant for optimizing your site on, but to wait for full rollout of those campaigns until after you have actually optimized your site and created conditions that are conducive to prospects actually converting once they are on your site. In addition, admittedly, PPC does help with gaining awareness in the marketplace and even if folks don't click on your ads at least they become aware of who you are - without you paying the price for it.
At the end of the day, jumping straight into a full rollout of PPC campaigns is a sure way to lose money fast. Strategic implementation of PPC testing combined with dedicated focus on website navigation, content, and SEO are much stronger, cheaper ways to make a dent in your industry. As most good things in life - there's no silver bullet to getting a steady flow of prospects to your site - only hard work, determination, and lots of testing and mistakes will help you build a robust pipeline over time and attract the customers that you want.