skibum - 6:52 pm on Sep 6, 2010 (gmt 0)
I spent about 10 yrs at an agency and that was always something we struggled with. While we didn't use and test them all by any means, most of those systems just got in the way and made things even more difficult to deal with. Then we had to pay those prices you mention on top of the extra work to deal with the tool. In the end it seemed like no matter what the tool, to get client friendly reports, the stuff still ends up in Excel, at least in order to provide any kind of detail.
The best PPC management tool is your brain and the keyword, ad text and landing page combos make more difference in performance than any PPC management tool, IMHO. We eventually settled on the tool Channel Advisor offers. Nothing to fancy, no black box algorithms to make everything hands off. It had a few bid rules that were sometimes used (I still haven't seen a set of bid rules that works the way search actually works now or exploits the right constraints - they are/were all still based on the Overture auction model that hasn't been in use for ages now). It gave us accurate click, conversion and sales data that we could use to make decisions, had a wide variety of different reports that were useful.
In your search, find something that gives you good data first and then worry about all the fancy algorithms that will magically make everything work. Ask to see reports you want and will give to clients and if those can be produced, then listen to the pitch about how it will prepare breakfast for you each morning.