One of my clients pours upwards of 15k+ in having their company listed on

For those who don't know is an industrial search engine that provides one source for finding the exact product, service, or supplier –quickly and efficiently. ThomasNet provides direct access to the detailed information needed to make a purchasing or specifying decision, including line-item product details, CAD drawings, and more.

The more you pay at Thomas, the higher you rank in their rankings, already I do not like this...

I'm fairly new to SEO and I can't imagine spending over 20k with these guys can do better than a well SEO'd website for google for a fraction of the price.

I was told that they really do not generate many leads. ThomasNet has been in this business for years and years when they offered their big green catalogs (hard copies). My client is very apprehensive to give up on Thomas, but without any solid ROI data, I'm not sure what they're sticking around for.

I also read that being registered with these guys can actually hurt your rankings!? (although I cannot find where this is confirmed).

What are your guy's thoughts on this? Spending around 20k/yr is a lot of $$ for a small manufacturing company.